Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Sermon: Epiphany (observed) – 2012

4 January 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 2:1-12

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In his most famous short story, author O. Henry illustrates what true love is. It is a Christmas story of a poor husband sacrificing what is most dear to him to buy his wife a gift. It is also the poor wife sacrificing what is most dear to her to buy her husband a gift. And though both are materially less well off, the demonstration of love for one another shows that they are rich indeed.

O. Henry called this story “The Gift of the Magi” as the Magi are the wise men who brought gifts to the Holy Child, who was Himself the greatest gift of all. The wise men presented the best of their treasures to the Lord: “gold and frankincense and myrrh,” and the Lord Jesus offered His very body and blood as a sacrifice of love for all men – even Gentiles from afar.

Love is not only a mystery, it is also a paradox. For the more one gives in love, the richer one becomes. Our Lord Himself taught us that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

The gifts of the magi who traveled to see the boy King are love offerings and sacrifices of thanksgiving. They are also something else: a confession. In giving these gifts, these wise men from the east are proclaiming to the world and to all of history that they confess this Jesus to be Prophet (bearing the sweet aroma of God’s Word), Priest (surrounded in the smoke of the incense of the divine presence of God), and King (possessing the richness of material treasure). And this long journey of these men was not merely for the purpose of attending a party or to drop off a few parcels. Their purpose was simple: “We… have come to worship Him.”

“We have come” dear brothers and sisters, “to worship Him.”

That is why the wise men came from hundreds of miles away. That is why we have come here this evening. We have come to “worship Him.” And yes, He gives us the very same gifts as He offered to the wise men and all men at the cross: the forgiveness of sins through the atoning sacrifice of His blood. For like the husband in the O. Henry story, He is the perfect Bridegroom who withholds nothing – not even His very lifeblood – from His dear bride. And yes, we also offer Him gifts here as well – our own treasures in the form of monetary instruments that were at one time made of gold, the incense of our prayers, and the sweet myrrh of our hymns of thanks and praise – even as the bride in the O. Henry story: the Church withholds nothing – not even her most treasured possessions – from her dear Bridegroom.

But this gift exchange is not our primary purpose. We have not come in order to put money in a plate. Nor have we come out of sheer selfishness to get something. No indeed! For we give, and yes, we receive these holy gifts in faith. We receive these gifts in faith, love, gratitude, and in worship of the One who gives us everything.

The church is indeed like a hospital. We come to the church to get well. But it is not a for-prophet healthcare enterprise – rather it is a hospital that runs on charity and love. That is why we give gifts, dear friends. If we owe God our money, and if that is why we are here – we might as well put a check in the mail and gripe about the cost. No, we come in person “to worship Him,” to be with Him in the flesh, to be where He is, to adore and love Him. And because of that, we joyfully bear gifts – like the magi – as an act of faith, love, and confession before all men around the world and in every time that Jesus is Prophet, Priest, and King.

He is God in the flesh!

He is our Lord, our Savior, our Redeemer, our beloved Bridegroom. We worship Him for who He is, not because of what He does for us. And yet He does everything for us, holds nothing back, and rains treasure upon us now and even unto eternity. For He loves us, dear friends. He has come into the world to redeem the world, and to buy us poor miserable sinners back from death and hell, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”

The magi “fell down and worshiped Him.” So do we, dear brothers and sisters. Just as these wise men knelt before their King – who for all the world looked like an ordinary helpless baby – we too fall upon our knees before the Lord who manifests Himself in Holy Communion – which for all the world looks like ordinary bread and wine. And this most holy sacrament is His gift to us: His true body and His true blood, one and the same as that which the wise men worshiped.

As the saying goes, “wise men still seek Him.” And yes, wise men still worship Him. Wise men still know the meaning of love, both in the meager sacrifices we can offer the living God as well as the priceless and incomparable sacrifice offered for us poor miserable sinners at the hands – hands of a little child and hands of a carpenter pierced by nails – at the very hands of the very God. Hands that receive gifts in our imperfect love; hands that offer and distribute gifts in His perfect love.

Today we celebrate the event the Church calls “the Epiphany of our Lord.” An epiphany is a shining forth, a revealing. It is what you see when the light is turned on, and the true image of a thing that was hidden becomes visible.

Love may be invisible in and of itself. But, dear friends, even as love is seen in the acts of love – like the husband and wife in the story, like the love we Christians have for one another, and for our fellow men in this fallen world – so too is love clearly shone forth in the cross, the empty tomb, the communion rail, the pulpit, the baptismal font, in the forgiveness of sins, and in countless acts of forgiveness and mercy, great and small.

Love shone forth as an epiphany to the wise men who came to worship Love incarnate, God incarnate, the forgiveness of sins incarnate, and life incarnate. God who was hidden on account of our sins shines brightly (on account of our forgiveness), shining as an epiphany before wise men of every age who confess Him as Lord.

And we poor sinners who have been forgiven are rich indeed. For “we have come to worship Him.” Amen.

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

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