Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Sermon: Epiphany (transferred)

7 January 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 2:1-12 (Isa 60:1-6, Eph 3:1-12)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

There is something about royalty that we Americans distrust. There is something terribly unfair about allowing a man to govern just because of his parentage. And even though we Americans have our Kennedy and Bush families, we at least make them stand for election.

Kings, however, are not elected – at least not by the people.

In the church’s Gospel reading for the Day of Epiphany, we have several kings. There is the seated king of the Jews, Herod, a wicked king who was not particularly loved by his own people, a cruel man who exalted himself for the sake of power. There is also the new and eternal King of the Jews, our Lord Jesus Christ, a King who is not only godly, but is also God, who was likewise not loved by a goodly number of His own people, a perfect Man who humbled Himself out of love for the people He has come to rescue.

Then there are the magi, traditionally three kings from the orient, who were led to the one “born king of the Jews” by a star, and likely informed about the coming King by a copy of the Old Testament left behind in Persia by the ancestors of King Jesus hundreds of years earlier.

So who has been “born king of the Jews?” The question is why Herod is “troubled” – for Herod and his ruling dynasty were not truly legitimate. They clung to the power they seized by ruthlessness and by appeasing the pagan Romans. Herod and his family were destined to be knocked off the throne, and they seem to grasp the tenuous nature of their rule. King Herod fears King Jesus – for Jesus is truly the one “born king of the Jews” – which was to be written in words above His thorn-crowned head a little more than thirty years later by the Roman governor Pilate – a friend of a later Herodian king who would likewise seek the extermination of the true King of the Jews.

Unlike the jealous pretender-king and tyrant Herod, who would go as far as to murder babies in a desperate bid to rid the world of the one “born king of the Jews” according to the ancient prophecies, the magi humbled themselves before the baby King. The magi brought gifts demonstrating the fitness of Jesus for the throne – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And what’s more, they did not call upon King Jesus as equal heads of state, as fellow monarchs, as peers within the royal system. Indeed, these kings “fell down and worshiped Him.” The nature, the divine nature, of King Jesus was revealed to the magi. And it may well have been revealed by the prophet Isaiah: “the wealth of the nations shall come to you… camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.”

The magi did not come to worship Herod. In fact, they only consulted Herod for information about the one “born king of the Jews.”

The Church has set aside this “twelfth night,” this day after the twelfth day of Christmas, to commemorate this “epiphany,” this manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For He has been shown to the entire world – even to Gentile kings from hundreds of miles away – to be worthy of not only respect due a king, but worship due to God alone: “God in man made manifest.”

Our Lord’s entire life was to be a manifestation of God in the flesh, of the Lord’s ministry of reconciliation in a physical body, a body born of Mary, a body that ate bread and drank wine, a body that would bear scorn, stripes, and a spear, a crucified body gushing water and blood, a body that withheld nothing from His beloved people.

For when the one “born king of the Jews” hung on the cross, He demonstrated not the vengeance of Herod, but the mercy of God: “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.” Rather than spill the blood of children to save Himself seated on a throne, our Lord spills His own precious blood to save the children of those who sent Him to the cross. Pilate’s sign that read: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” was the thing Herod feared most – a manifestation, an epiphany, for all the world to see that it is Jesus who is the true and legitimate King, while the Herodians were half-breed pretenders to a puppet throne.

The magi came to adore the eternal King – as do we. We come to this holy place week after week, year after year. Christians have come to “fall down and worship Him” century after century where He is to be found. We bend the knee to the One who was given gold, frankincense, and myrrh, offering Him our lives as humble tokens of submission to His kingship and His divinity.

But this king, unlike wicked Herod, doesn’t come to hold onto power, to govern by terror and intimidation, to collaborate with our enemies. No indeed! Our Lord and King uses His power to make us kings and priests of a new kingdom with Him, governed by love and righteousness. Jesus came to conquer our enemies – and did so on the cross. This King does not tax us for His own comfort, but rather gives Himself as a gift of Himself to comfort us – the bread of His flesh and the wine of His blood.

Like the royal magi who bowed in humility, our Lord Jesus gets on His hands and knees before His disciples to scrub their feet. Rather than exalt Himself on a mighty throne, our Lord descends from the highest throne of all to lie in a manger and hang on a cross, to lie in a tomb, to descend into hell, and to rise again to demonstrate his Lordship over sin, death, and the devil.

The discomfort we Americans have in the face of royalty has to do with the unfairness of it all. Why shouldn’t we enjoy the same benefits as the aristocrats? Our dear Lord agrees. For in taking on our flesh, He has elevated our human flesh to the level of the divine. In His kingly status as the Son of David and the Son of God, He shares his kingship and His kingdom with all of us, declaring us all to be Sons of God through Him. The most unfair thing of all is that we poor miserable sinners do not get what we deserve. For we are no better than the cruel and hypocritical King Herod – and yet, the one “born king of the Jews” unfairly overlooks that, forgives us our sins, intercedes to the Father on our behalf, takes away our reproach and guilt, and manifests Himself as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who has come to rescue us, so that we may, with St. Paul, “preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God.”

And we, along with the magi, continue to fall down and worship Him and “bring gold and frankincense,” as well as “good news, the praises of the Lord,” now and evermore, world without end. Amen.

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

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