Thursday, January 06, 2005

Sermon: Epiphany

6 January 2005 at Chapel of Lutheran High School, Metairie, LA

Text: Matt 2:1-12

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

There is an ancient Hebrew hymn called “The Hanukkah Song” by Adam Sandler.

Okay, it’s not really ancient, but it sure is funny, and we get to hear it every year around Christmas-time. The song points out famous people who are Jewish, who celebrate Hanukkah. And who would have thought so many words rhyme with Hanukkah? Adam Sandler compares it to Christmas this way: “Hanukkah is the festival of lights, Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights.” With all due respects to this genuinely funny comedian, Christmas is really much more than “one day of presents.” In fact, today, January 6, marks the end of Christmas – which is really a 12-day celebration.

This explanis the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” – although the nonsense about partridges and five golden rings has nothing to do with the Christian faith. The story floating around that the parts of that song are a secret confession of Christianity during persecution is just an “urban legend.” It’s a great story, but it just isn’t true. Those of you who are my students know – or should know – to check things like this out at

But while “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is no more Christian than Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song,” it does serve as a reminder that Christmas is a season, not merely a day. The Christian Christmas is truly different, and more meaningful, than WalMart’s Christmas.

While the day after Christmas the stores are already tearing down their Christmas displays and moving on to Valentine’s Day, and while many people chuck their Christmas trees to the curb before they turn the page of the calendar, the Christian celebration of the incarnation of God in the form of a man continues for several weeks. Today, the day after the twelfth day of Christmas, is known as the Epiphany. This is a Greek word that means “a showing.”

From his conception, through his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection, Jesus is constantly showing us, giving us epiphanies, of who he is. Like Hansel and Gretl, Jesus drops breadcrumb-like clues to show himself to us and to the world. And sometimes the breadcrumbs he drops are more like atomic bombs. Jesus showed himself to be God when he changed water into wine, healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead. He epiphanied himself as he was baptized, and as he preached and gave out the Lord’s Supper. He was shown for the God that he is when he was transfigured on the mountain, and glowed with dazzling bright light. Our Lord’s epiphanies came to a peak when he gave his life for us on the cross, and while dying there, pronouncing our sins to be forgiven, and then rose gloriously from the dead. The whole world has seen this unique Man show himself to us. It was a great epiphany when our Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, asked St. Thomas to place his finger in the holes in his side and in his hands. Thomas received this epiphany, this showing of who Jesus is, with a confession: “My Lord and my God!”

Today, on the day we call “The Feast of the Epiphany,” our Lord shows himself in a different way, a mysterious way, a way which brings hope to you, to me, and to the entire world. There is no dazzling light beaming from his face – although a light leads the wise men to the infant Jesus. There is no bombastic miracle of a dead man walking around – only the quiet miracle of God wriggling in swaddling cloths. There is no mystical meal in which God takes bread and wine and declares them to be his Body and Blood, only a seemingly ordinary act of a baby nursing. And Jesus, at this epiphany, doesn’t say “Father, forgive them,” and yet, by his very presence, the baby Jesus brings forgiveness of sins to the entire world, to all nations, to Gentiles and Jews alike.

For it was indeed shown to the wise men, to Gentiles who lived hundreds of miles away, who this Jesus was, is, and forever will be. This is God himself. Yet this God has a mother. This is the Eternal One – and yet this God has taken on mortal flesh, and will die. This is the Almighty, and yet this God must wear diapers, for his weakness is even such that he can’t control his own body.

Dear Christian friends, this is the miracle itself. That God loves us enough to send his only begotten Son into the flesh – vulnerable, helpless, and ultimately, to die in our place, for us. And then, to rise again. This is the ultimate epiphany. God isn’t showing us his might and power. God isn’t creating a flood that destroys the whole world. God isn’t creating a universe and destroying worlds with a blast from his nostrils. No, the miracle is not “our God is an awesome God,” but rather, our God is one of us, an infant. And this infant is also a priest – a priest who not only goes to God on our behalf, but is God himself. A priest who not only knows of our humanity, but shares in it.

God knows what it means to be human – the struggles each of us experience: temptation, hunger, sadness, and death itself. He knows, because he took all of these on himself. And he did so to save us – from sin, death, and the power of the devil. And this Messiah is not only a savior of the Jewish race, but even of these distant wise men, these astrologers to whom our Lord was revealed by the Old Testament. Jesus is the savior of all people, regardless of race, language, sex, or station in life. The wise men understood this epiphany, this showing. For they not only gave the Baby-King gifts of material wealth, they also presented themselves as gifts to the Baby-God – bowing to him in holy worship. The were reverent in the presence of their God. Since God showed to them undeserved mercy, they showed their thanks to him as quiet respect and reverent worship.

This Day of Epiphany links Christmas – the miraculous birth of our Lord – to his passion and death. For even as we begin the Carnival season today with the Epiphany (perhaps even with the showing of the Christ Child in king cakes), our joyous celebrations end at Mardi Gras. For the day after Mardi Gras is Ash Wednesday – beginning yet another 40-day journey with Jesus, a journey of repentance and self-examination to the cross that culminates in the empty tomb.

Although he didn’t mean to, Adam Sandler missed the point of Christmas. But he is right that Christmas is about gifts – but it isn’t only one day. And in reality, it isn’t even only about 12 days. Christmas is about gifts that we receive over and over again, from God himself – even unto eternity. We receive baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Absolution, and the preaching of the Gospel again and again. We receive forgiveness of all our sins over and over. We fall down, and our God-Man picks us up, time and again. And we receive everlasting life and communion with him who showed himself to the wise men, and to us, as a gentle baby on a mission to lay down his life for us. This epiphany is a showing of God as love beyond all love.

May this holy love of Jesus continue to show itself to you, and through you to others. And may the divine love of our Lord Jesus Christ surround you and keep you unto eternity. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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