SERMON FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY, 1-19-2020
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL
Pastor Michael Larson
Today is the second Sunday after the Epiphany. So we’re in Epiphany season. And that’s not just pastor talk. This is the language of the church. Epiphany means a revealing. To see something for the first time. To understand something significant, and this new seeing and new understanding changes everything.
This is what the season of Epiphany is all about. It’s about coming to grips with the reality of Jesus’ identity. And so we celebrate all the ways that our Lord revealed His glory, showing that He is indeed “God of God, Light of light, very God of very God,” which we confess in the Creed every Sunday.
The Feast of the Epiphany begins with and is most associated with the visit of the Magi, which we celebrated together a couple weeks ago. Those Wise Men from the East were given an Epiphany. They saw something truly wonderful. A star up in the sky leading them and guiding them to the Savior of the world. But that star only led them so far. For ultimately it was the bright shining star of God’s Word – the promise that the Lord would be born in Bethlehem, from the book of Micah – that brought them to the house where the child and His mother were found. They peered in and beheld the light of the world.
Those visitors from the East were truly wise men. Just look at the gifts they lay before the infant Christ: Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. With those gifts they confess who Jesus is.
Gold because this child is king. Frankincense because He is our high priest. And myrrh? Well, that’s used to anoint a body for burial – so how perfect! A confession. An epiphany. A reminder to us all that this child came to be the sacrifice for sin, to offer up His life on our behalf.
The next event we associate with the season of Epiphany is the Baptism of our Lord. Last week, we heard Bishop Lytkin from Siberia preach a sublime sermon on this holy treasure of baptism. Jesus goes down into that baptism to unite Himself in love to sinful man. He comes up out of those waters bearing the sins of the whole world, obedient to the Father and obeying His Father’s will. The heavens open. The spirit descends upon Him, and the Father speaks those marvelous words, which He speaks also to every baptized Christian child: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”
Are you seeing a theme here for Epiphany? On Christmas we celebrate that God becomes man. We celebrate the birth of Jesus. But Epiphany, well, we need that too. Because we learn to see with new eyes, to recognize and confess that this child, this Jesus – He’s God. The Lord Almighty. The one and only incarnate Son of the Father.
Folks, this mystery of the incarnation, you just can’t tell me you already know all about it – or understand it already – because you don’t – you can’t – at least not fully. Not in this life, at least. Martin Luther once preached that if we fully meditated on the incarnation – it would simply be too much for us – our hearts would simply burst for joy!
Again, the season of Epiphany is about the eyes. It’s a festival of light – the revealing of God – seeing and confessing and believing that what before had been hidden, veiled, is now lifted before our eyes!
Today, in our readings, the festival of Epiphany continues. In our first reading this morning, Moses has a big request. And it’s got to do with those eyes of his. He wants a sit down – a real face to face meeting with the Lord. We can understand where Moses is coming from here. He’d been dealing with God mediated through a burning bush, a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud. So Moses goes right on ahead and boldly asks for a vision of God’s unfiltered glory.
But you know the problem with that? This all recalls that tragic day when these eyes of ours were opened to good and evil. Sin and rebellion, and the devils lies. And this is the thing! Human sinfulness and divine holiness don’t mix! And no sinner can withstand the full revelation of God’s presence without being destroyed. So the Lord reminds Moses, “Man shall not see me and live.” So just as one cannot stare into the sun and contemplate it in its full radiance and light, so man cannot peer into the full splendor of God. But Moses did catch a ray of that sun. Because this is what God did for him. He tucked Moses into the cleft of a rock, and passed by, giving a brief glimpse of His divine presence.
Dear Christians, this is why that Gospel reading on Christmas morning should truly make our hearts swell and burst with joy. Saint John tells us that no one has ever seen God’s full presence and glory, for it would be too much for a sinner to bear. Until, of course, Christ comes! Because there God is tabernacled, wrapped in the human vesture of flesh and blood – the fullness of deity – the fullness of God dwelling here in this infant child. Just think about what those wise men saw when they peered into those stable doors and beheld the Lord of life! Because at this wonderful meeting with the Lord, they’re not harmed or destroyed, but richly blessed by the presence of the infant Christ. For He’s born, comes into this world, not to destroy man but so save him, and to instead harm and destroy the devil, and all his works, and all his ways.
But first he must be harmed himself, impaled, pierced for the sins of the world. That is why St. John came make that incredible claim, “We have seen His glory.”
This morning, St. John the evangelist repeats the same theme. Jesus’ first miracle changing water into wine. “This,” writes John, “the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.”
So God manifests his glory in Jesus Christ. If that sounds too theological, think of it this way: when Jesus shows up on the scene, God’s love is made visible! The Father’s kind and loving heart is seen by all. So when Philip asks Jesus to see the Father, our Lord responds as He does, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
Moses had a big request. He asked to see the glory of God. But that full disclosure would be too much. Not he, nor anyone, could live through that to tell about it. So God shows Moses only His backside, a passing glimpse in the cleft of that rock.
But we, dear Christians, we are full beneficiaries of the full disclosure of God’s glory in the face of Jesus, the face of God’s divine love. Because when we behold Christ our Lord on another mountain, on Calvary, the glory of God truly shines forth. At the wedding at Cana Jesus declared, “My hour has not yet come.” But in the upper room He would pray, “For this purpose I have come to this hour…And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” And then John adds, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” This is His glorification. His crucifixion death. So Cana, as great as that miracle is, is but a sign pointing us to the cross. That we might truly open our eyes and see God as He wants to be seen, in His Son, in His incompressible love and goodness.
The wedding at Cana is a wonderful miracle! What is it compared to that truly glorious wedding that takes place at the cross? Because there Jesus our Bridegroom, the second Adam, falls asleep in death. And just as Eve was formed from Adam’s side, so is the church, the bride of Christ, made resplendent by that pierced side – from the cleft of that rock – who is Christ. Water and blood flowed freely. Baptism and the Holy Supper. A nuptial bath and a wedding feast unlike any other.
Dear Christians, folks look far and wide for God. But here He is, right where He’s promised to be. In His Word. In His sacraments. In His glorified and raised body and blood all given and shed for you for your purification – for your forgiveness. For your life, for your salvation, and for your joy. That you may eat and drink and taste and see that the Lord is good.
It’s worth noting that Jesus’ first miracle is turning water into wine. What an epiphany! How revealing about the character and nature of our God. A God of love and kindness. Generosity and joy overflowing.
Treasure in your heart this morning this simple truth: Jesus is the friend of human happiness. Earth’s sources of pleasure may run dry, but at Cana our Lord shows us that He’s the source of a joy that is richer, and sweeter, and will endure to all eternity. Because what was done at Cana points to the final banishment of all sorrow, when God will wipe away all tears and the water of sorrow will be turned into the wine of joy at the marriage supper of the Lamb in His Kingdom.
But till that great consummation day, we have some joyful marching orders from the mother of our Lord. Mary in today’s Gospels says of her Son, simply, “Do whatever He tells you.” Short and sweet, but it gives us plenty to do. So let’s all again take that to heart. And do what He tells us to do, like when He says, “Love one another as I have loved you,” AND “Take and eat, this is my body…take and drink…this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”