Sermon for the Epiphany of Our Lord: January 6, 2016
Worship with the Wise Men
St. Matthew 2:1-12
The Reverend Michael Henrichs
In Nomine Iesu


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus:


Sadly, the twelve days of Christmas have come and gone. But before the tree comes down and before the lights get unplugged for the final time, there’s still a bit of Christmas left to celebrate. Epiphany is the “other” Christmas—Christmas part two. The first Christmas involved angels and shepherds, swaddling clothes and a manger. This “other” Christmas involves wise men and a star. That first Christmas was for Israel; this “second” Christmas is for the whole world—for the Gentiles—including you and me.

 

But before we dig any deeper, let’s get our facts straight. Let’s separate the facts from fiction. I’ve prepared a little pop quiz to help with this. Just three true or false questions. 1. The star that led the wise men was actually an alignment of two planets. 2. The wise men knelt before Jesus in the manger. 3. The Bible tells us there were three wise men.


Let’s pause to see how well you’ve done. The star was an alignment of planets? False—at least false in that the Greek word for “star” could indicate a variety of heavenly bodies, including actual stars, planets or comets—or any alignment thereof. The wise men knelt before Jesus in the manger? False—by the time the wise men did their kneeling the holy family had upgraded their accommodations to a “house.” There were three wise men? False—at least false in the sense that while St. Matthew mentions three gifts, he never tells us exactly how many wise men.

Sermon for the Epiphany of Our Lord: January 6, 2016
Worship with the Wise Men
St. Matthew 2:1-12
The Reverend Michael Henrichs
In Nomine Iesu


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus:


Sadly, the twelve days of Christmas have come and gone. But before the tree comes down and before the lights get unplugged for the final time, there’s still a bit of Christmas left to celebrate. Epiphany is the “other” Christmas—Christmas part two. The first Christmas involved angels and shepherds, swaddling clothes and a manger. This “other” Christmas involves wise men and a star. That first Christmas was for Israel; this “second” Christmas is for the whole world—for the Gentiles—including you and me.

But before we dig any deeper, let’s get our facts straight. Let’s separate the facts from fiction. I’ve prepared a little pop quiz to help with this. Just three true or false questions. 1. The star that led the wise men was actually an alignment of two planets. 2. The wise men knelt before Jesus in the manger. 3. The Bible tells us there were three wise men.


Let’s pause to see how well you’ve done. The star was an alignment of planets? False—at least false in that the Greek word for “star” could indicate a variety of heavenly bodies, including actual stars, planets or comets—or any alignment thereof. The wise men knelt before Jesus in the manger? False—by the time the wise men did their kneeling the holy family had upgraded their accommodations to a “house.” There were three wise men? False—at least false in the sense that while St. Matthew mentions three gifts, he never tells us exactly how many wise men.


"And yet, most of us have in our homes nativity sets where exactly three wise men are placed side-by-side with shepherds around the manger—along with a delightful assortment of stinky livestock. What’s wrong with you people? Don’t you read your Bibles? Perhaps because these Scriptural accounts mean so much to us—and because we’ve heard them our whole life long—it becomes easy to speculate, and make a few assumptions, and toss in a few logical presumptions. Add in a bit of childhood nostalgia and, viola, you’ve got yourself a Christmas/Epiphany that’s more fantasy and folklore than fact.


But in the church of Jesus Christ our only concern is with the facts, as they have been revealed to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Fiction, fantasy, and folklore must fade away in the light of God’s truth. Here we let go of legend and lore, and instead open our ears to receive the Word in all of its truth and purity and detail.


But legend and lore always hold a certain appeal whenever and wherever the saints of God are gathered together. And this is particularly true whenever congregations are celebrating a big anniversary. By the way, happy 100th birthday, Luther Memorial Chapel. Be wary this year of the temptation to view your century through the lens of legend and lore. For it will be easy to get caught up in remembering the good old days when there was a fifty-voice choir in that balcony—when pews were packed for multiple services every Sunday—when Sunday school rooms were busting at the seams with children—when one building project followed on the heels of another—when confirmation classes were almost too big to number. And the vicars—oh, who can forget the vicars of yesteryear? They just don’t make vicars like that anymore, do they? Yes, if we allow ourselves to indulge in legend and lore—and gloss over the more realistic details—what we are left with is a group of wise men and faithful women with a glorious history—who apparently have no need of a Savior from sin and death.


It is good, right and salutary to give thanks to God for His gifts and grace and blessings so generously poured out in this congregation for one hundred years; but Epiphany reminds us to distinguish between fact and fiction. And the fact is that we are both saints and sinners simultaneously—that even while we worship like the wise men, we are—at the same time—plotting and planning, scheming and sinning like King Herod. Like Herod, we are quick to target those who threaten our power and control. Like Herod, our history shows that we have not hesitated to hurt or harm one another in order to make ourselves look good. We’ve been quick to complain and slow to encourage and build-up the body of Christ. Our sin is a matter of fact and accuracy and truth. The devil is in those details.

 

So let’s face those sad facts—and repent of them; and instead let’s embrace the wisdom of the wise men. Let’s dig down deep into the details of Epiphany and let that good news have its way with us. And above all else, know this: The wisdom of the wise men came from the Word—the Word of God. Yes, it’s true, they were probably astrologers from the Middle East who followed a star. But that star only led them as far as Jerusalem. And it turns out that no kings had recently been born in Jerusalem. 


So the wise men had to set aside the star, along with their logical assumptions and presumptions about where kings should be born. And here Herod was helpful. He called together the scholars of the Scriptures and asked them where the Christ was to be born. And they dug down deep into the dusty scrolls of God’s Word and landed on an obscure passage from Micah: And you, O Bethlehem . . . from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people. Right there in the Word of God, the wise men found what they needed. Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?—in Bethlehem, about seven more miles down the interstate. Without that essential detail gleaned from the Word of God, there would have been no Epiphany—no gold, no frankincense, no myrrh. But with the Word of God, there was an Epiphany. There was worship. There was great joy.

 

Just think, the wise men could have stayed at home. When the star first appeared they could have decided to do their worshiping from the comfort of their own couches. They could have popped the cork on a bottle of Babylon’s finest and toasted the newborn king. But the wise men teach us that worship always leads to Christ in the flesh. They moved their physical presence to where His physical presence was. The Greek word used for “worship” here literally means that they bowed down on their knees, with their foreheads pressed against the ground. Worship for these wise men involved physical, bodily action. That’s still how it is for us today. Worship involves bodily action: kneeling, bowing, standing, the sign of the cross, processing and recessing, raising voices, bowing heads, folding hands. And it’s not a matter of high church or low church; it’s using our God-given bodies to confess that the Christ of Bethlehem is also the Christ of this hour—that He comes among us to serve us—in the preaching and proclamation of the Word, and in the bread that is His body and the wine that is His blood.


When the wise men finally did find the holy family, what they saw with their eyes was neither regal nor royal. The poor family from Nazareth had upgraded from a manger place to a house, but they weren’t wearing halos and there wasn’t a fifty-voice choir singing the Hallelujah chorus. But because the Word of God in all its specific detail had had its way with the wise men, they believed. They believed as you do that the child of Mary is the Son of God, the King of the Jews, Our Savior. In faith they gave their costly and precious gifts to the newborn king—not reluctantly or regretfully, but with great joy.

 

Like the wise men, we also offer our gifts to Jesus—money that represents the fruit of our labors. We also offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God. We offer our very best to Jesus—not to win His favor or cut a deal—but because God’s Word has had its way with us. Not the legend, not the lore, but the Word in its truth and purity. That Word makes manifest what has been the beating heart of Luther Memorial Chapel for the past century—that Christ was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification—that as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive—that God was reconciling the whole world (Jew and Gentile) to Himself in Christ, not counting our trespasses against us. All that Jesus is and has He gives to you who believe. His Sonship, His sinless record of obedience, His absolution, His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, and resurrection life that lasts forever—these are yours on this Epiphany night—gifts so much more valuable than gold or frankincense or myrrh.

 

You are, in fact, wiser than the wise men—wiser because you know what they didn’t know. They came seeking the one who was born king of the Jews. And tonight we have come seeking the one who was crucified king of the Jews. That phrase, king of the Jews, tells the whole story tonight. That’s what the wise men called Jesus when He was born. That’s also what Pontius Pilate inscribed above Jesus’ head when He was nothing more than a corpse on a cross: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. That title tells the whole story: born for you, died for you. Now risen and ascended to prepare a place for you.

 

True or false: You are loved by God, for the sake of His dear Son, in the power of His Holy Spirit. Absolutely true. That much is sure and certain, for the water and the Word of your baptism declare it to be so. And believing that, you are indeed worshiping with the wise men. Happy Epiphany. Amen.

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
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Divine Service: Sundays - 9:00a Mondays - 7:00p Bible Study & Sunday School: Sundays - 10:45a