WISE MEN WORSHIP CHRIST IN THE FLESH!
Preached by Rev. Kenneth Wieting
The 3rd window from the pulpit on this side of the nave is pictured on page 11 of the new booklet explaining God’s Word in our stained glass windows here at LMC. That window is entitled, “The Adoration of the Magi”. The wording that accompanies it calls Epiphany the Christmas Day of the Gentiles. In other words the real Christmas Day for most of you! Merry Christmas to you!
THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD – JAN 6, 2008
TEXT: MATTHEW 2:1-12
WISE MEN WORSHIP CHRIST IN THE FLESH!
Preached by Rev. Kenneth Wieting
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Dear hearers of the Word made flesh:
The 3rd window from the pulpit on this side of the nave is pictured on page 11 of the new booklet explaining God’s Word in our stained glass windows here at LMC. That window is entitled, “The Adoration of the Magi”. The wording that accompanies it calls Epiphany the Christmas Day of the Gentiles. In other words the real Christmas Day for most of you! Merry Christmas to you! Referring to the Wise men (three are pictured but we don’t know how many there were) it asserts that some among the learned and powerful of the earth reverenced Him as Lord.
The wise men were among the learned and powerful of the earth. Their freedom and resources to travel were possessed by few. Their precious gifts were possessed by even fewer. In one sense, they were the university professors of their day. Their lives were devoted to study, the study of history and astronomy and philosophy and medicine and religions.
But, with all their learning, were the Wise Men really all that wise? They left their homes and the safety of their homeland. They traveled a long distance, not knowing the outcome of their search. They gave their best, without any praise or thanks recorded for their gifts. They had to scurry back home by way of a detour from Herod’s wrath. And when they arrived back home, what did they have to show for their arduous journey, their humble worship, and their rich generosity? They simply disappear from the pages of history.
By any earthly measure, these men appear more foolish than wise. What did the King of the Jews have to do with these Gentiles? Where is the wisdom in their reverencing, that is, in kneeling and putting their faces to the ground before this little child? What did these learned, powerful men get out of worshipping Him? Were the Wise Men really all that wise?
Nearly every time and culture has its people of wisdom. There are the philosophers, the deep thinkers, the professors and the learned lights of society. Sometimes those thought to be wise are respected when they shouldn’t be. Witness many of today’s entertainers who are idolized and admired as wise for shallow, external reasons. Politicians covet their endorsements. It is as if money and fame and success are sure indicators of true wisdom. On the other hand, sometimes those who have earthly wisdom are scorned when they shouldn’t be. Winston Churchill was thought to be a stubborn, deluded, malcontent for years leading up to World War II. Popular opinion and conventional wisdom said that Hitler should be appeased by negotiation. History has shown who was speaking words of earthly wisdom.
What is considered wisdom is also very changeable by the world. Children may think their parents are pretty wise until teen years. Then it, it seems, parents suddenly lose all sense and peers become extremely wise. Then, five or ten years later parents can actually seem to have regained a bit of their understanding. Or consider the changeable wisdom of culture. When I was in college, those thought to be wise warned us of a new ice age, of global cooling. All the major universities and the media (Time, Newsweek, etc) energetically promoted this wisdom in the 70’s. That wisdom has cooled off considerably while new cultural wisdom warns today’s college students and all of us of different circumstances.
Enough of the world’s changeable views of wisdom! What of those who worshipped the Christ Child? Were they really all that wise? Were they simply star-gazers chasing a dream? What was the basis for their actions? Is Epiphany really their Christmas Day and ours?
When Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews were dispersed in the Babylonian Captivity, Old Testament promises were also dispersed in the East. Six hundred years before the Magi came from the East, Daniel served in Babylon as governor of all the Wise Men (Dan. 2:48). Daniel worshipped the true God, who promised the coming Messiah. You remember how he prophesied to King Nebuchadnezzar of the great stone who would crush all the kingdoms of the earth and establish a new kingdom that would endure forever (Daniel 2:31-45). You remember how even the lion’s den could not make Daniel cease from his reverent worship of the true God. You remember also how King Darius then decreed that men in his kingdom should fear and tremble before the God of Daniel, the living and enduring God (Dan. 6:26). It is very important to remember that there was prophetic witness to the coming Messiah, the king of the Jews, in Eastern cultures because of the captivity of God’s people.
The wise men were spurred on in part by what they heard from such Old Testament prophecy handed down to them, for they called the little child they were seeking, the king of the Jews. The star alone did not reveal this title to them. By God’s revelation they understood that the star, His star, signified the birth of the long-expected King of grace from the Jewish people. When the star rose in the East they set out on a journey to the capital city of Judah. Our text indicates that the star was no longer visible when they ended their travels in Jerusalem. That’s why they rejoiced with exceeding joy when they again saw the star after leaving Herod.
Please note, that while in Herod’s presence, the Wise Men did not ask where He was to be born, that was Herod’s question. Rather, the Wise Men came to Jerusalem and asked where he was who had already been born. Their question shows that they expected to find the newly born king in royal Jerusalem. But Scripture gave a different and unexpected word. Rather than bustling, sizeable Jerusalem, small, unimportant Bethlehem was the place where God was present in human flesh! In this one little town among all the towns in the world dwelt the Christ Child. Scripture gave clear direction to the Wise Men that the Christ was to be found in Bethlehem, “the house of bread”.
Dear Christians, simply stated, that was the wisdom of the Wise Men! They believed what Scripture said and were led to Christ! They are the first Gentiles that we know worshipped God in human flesh. Beholding a little child, they professed Him as the Lord of glory. These learned, powerful, wealthy adults fell to the ground and touched their foreheads to the earth before Him who has become for us wisdom from God (I Cor.1:30). For the Wise Men, everything was secondary to being in His presence and honoring Him. They believed that the King of the Jews was born also for them!
That is the wisdom, the light that Epiphany holds before us! Jesus Christ is born Savior of the world! The Word has become flesh for all people of all races! No one is excluded from the salvation He came to bring because of the color of their skin or the place of their birth. All humans are descended from Adam and Noah not from flat worms and the ancestors to the apes. We are all of one blood. To look down upon someone because of race is to look down upon Christ who assumed that race into His humanity in the Virgin’s womb. We are all part of the same family tree, red and yellow, black and white, and Christ came to save the whole tree, all of humanity.
This is the mystery St. Paul wrote about to the church at Ephesus. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Paul was given grace to 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. The mystery and the wisdom and the light of God is Christ Jesus come in the flesh. The mystery and the wisdom and the light of God is Christ come in the flesh for all people, also for you. Merry Christmas to you one and all!
That’s why Jan 6th was celebrated in the early church long before December 25th! That’s why Epiphany is the Christmas Day of the Gentiles! That’s why Epiphany is a season of mission emphasis, of bringing the light of Christ to the darkness of an unbelieving world. That’s why Epiphany is also a season full of light and encouragement for you as you battle the darkness of your sinful flesh. Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. Eight hundred years before Christ Isaiah prophesied of nations coming to the light of Christ, of nations bringing gold and frankincense and good news.
The thick darkness that covers fallen man is real. Amid all the bright lights and glitter, the world sits in darkness and in the shadow of death. The devil who seeks to delude you into the darkness of despair is also real. All the wisdom of man and “spiritual efforts” of man remain in thick darkness apart from the Epiphany, the revelation, the shining forth of Christ who is the Light of the world. Yes, the Wise Men truly were wise!
And so are you as you are led by Scripture to Christ in the flesh! You stand today not where the young child was, but where the risen Christ is! You find Him today not in the Bethlehem, “the city of bread” but in communion bread and wine and in baptismal water and in the preached word. Scripture leads us to Him here as it led the Wise Men to Him in Bethlehem. Today you bring your treasures not just to a building, but to Christ the King, for He promises to be in the midst of two or three gathered in His name. God grant us the bravery and the devotion and the generosity of the Wise Men in cheerfully returning a portion of the gold God allows us to use for a short season on this earth.
The Wise Men gave not only of their gold but also of their frankincense and their myrrh. Gold suggests a gift to the King of kings. Frankincense, a particular type of incense burned in the temple for worship, reminds us that Jesus is to be worshipped as true God and that He is our Mediator who intercedes for us and brings our prayers before the throne of God. The third gift, myrrh, is not mentioned in regard to the person of Jesus again until it is noted two times in rapid succession. This occurs years later when He is found not in Bethlehem but in Jerusalem, or at least near the gates of the royal city.
Myrrh was not given Him as a gift on that day but mixed with wine and offered him to drink as a drug to deaden the pain. He refused (Mark 15:23). Then He was hung on the tree of the cross in shameful naked display. He was displayed there with the very title of the one the Wise Men were looking for, “the king of the Jews”. The second use of myrrh on that day was also not given Him as a gift but mixed with aloes to wrap His dead body for burial. Crucified, dead, and buried!
Beloved, myrrh therefore not only marks the gift of the Magi to Jesus but God’s greatest gift to you in Jesus. For in the thick darkness of that tomb heavy with the smell of incense and myrrh was the Light of the world! No star marked His presence then, but even death’s darkness could not subdue the light He came to bring to all peoples.
Arise, shine, for your light has come! Arise and shine Jesus did on the morning of the third day, piercing the darkness of our sin and death with new life and with His absolution, “Peace be with you”!
Epiphany is our Christmas day! It celebrates the end of the ancient division between Israel and Gentile nations. God’s unsearchable riches in Christ are for all people! God’s unsearchable riches in Christ are for you! Merry Christmas to you, one and all!
Were the Wise Men really all that wise? Oh yes, eternally wise. They were wise in a way that neither science nor psychology nor human philosophy nor human spirituality can ever bestow. Are you really that wise in coming to receive Christ in the flesh in weekly worship? Oh yes, eternally wise. You are wise in a way that comes only as a gift of God! The highest worship in the Gospel in the light of the mystery of Christ’s coming is the desire to receive His forgiveness. Christ is in your midst to receive your reverent worship as He serves you with the forgiveness of sins today.
Arise, shine, for your light has come! Amen.