+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Matthew 2:7-8
Theme: Testifying Before Kings
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
God discloses His mysteries. Christianity doesn’t involve becoming more enshrouded in mystery but rather a more open interaction with the light of truth. Today is the Sunday of the Epiphany. Epiphany means ‘showing forth’. The incarnation of Jesus and its consequences were gradually revealed to the world. The first ‘epiphany event’ recorded in the gospels is the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus. Coming to the house, not the manger, the Magi were an indication that the Messiah came not only for Jews, but also for Gentiles. God’s plan of redemption is universal- an event of atonement for all humanity. It was the privilege of the evangelists to ‘show forth’ how Jesus, the Christ, came as the Light of the World. It is our privilege to retell that narrative in our daily lives.
Today’s account is a familiar one. The Magi came from the East. They saw King Herod in Jerusalem first. They were guided by the star. They brought Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. We also know they bowed down and worshipped Him. This is a key point we should not skim over too quickly. It was surely no token gesture of respect. It was the purpose of their journey. Through eyes of faith God enabled them to see in this small child the Redeemer of the world. They were privileged to see early on the gift God wanted revealed to the world.
Today’s Scripture also relates to a seldom celebrated occasion in the Church Year. December 28th is the date for recognizing the Holy Innocents or Martyrs. It is typically overlooked because it is so close to Christmas. It commemorates the ruthless slaughter by Herod of all male children in Bethlehem two years old and under. In his rage over not learning from the Magi where Christ was Herod took measures to eliminate them all. It is a fitting time to remember that God holds life sacred and especially charges us with protecting the most vulnerable. The light in the eyes of a countless number of unborn is put out each year. This is a very dark evil in such ostensibly enlightened times.
Even 2000 years after Christ’s coming the darkness gathers its forces and seeks to reclaim every inch of space where the light of truth has gone out. Christianity is never more than one generation from extinction. That truth is a testimony to the power of sin within us. Daily must the Old Adam be drown with all sins and evil desires. As 2013 commences let us throw off all the pride we have accumulated during the past year and the years prior and humbly bow our hearts to the architect of time and author of our salvation. The bible says,
“Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.”1 This is our inspiration for the new year. God is never fatigued.
We make plans to the best of our abilities and within our capacities and then we learn to say, “If God wills it!”2 “If God wills,” that’s what the apostle Paul said as he set sail from Ephesus, intending to, but not knowing if he would return. When we are foolish or arrogant enough to plan things that oppose God’s will then He may use this as an opportunity to chastise us and we pray that He would do so mercifully but instructively. But regarding many things that we plan He has given us a large measure of freedom. We have flexibility within the limits of God’s decree. Truly as Christians we are not restricted (except in regard to sin) we are free.
But some things are strictly non-negotiable. The teaching and dissemination of the Gospel is indispensable. The truth about Immanuel, God with His people; Christ’s death as an atonement for sins and resurrection as validation of His authority and sacrifice, this is the very content of the rays of light always to be dawning on the dark world. That there would be one continuous epiphany is the prayer of the church for the world. Remember what the apostle says today, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”3 Through the church God’s wisdom is made known.
What is the church? It is the complete number of those who believe in Jesus Christ, including, of course, those already deceased. The church is organized in congregations and groups of congregations in this place and around the world. But the church is not a voluntary civil or social organization. The church is people. But it is not people who associate through self-assembly; not simply a gathering of like-minded individuals with common religious interests. The church is constituted by the Holy Spirit through the word of God and sacraments. It is divinely inspired and conceived. The church is the gathering of those who believe and are baptized. It is an organism, the body of Christ. It partakes of divine food. And it has a sacred vocation, a purpose and a mission.
Isaiah says to us today, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.”4 The church is the steward of truth and the voice of hope in the world. It doesn’t possess worldly authority but divine power. It operates the keys to heaven by declaring that sins are either forgiven or retained. Its message will always be challenged by secular power. The wisemen testified before King Herod by heeding the counsel of God and retuning by a different route. The Lutheran reformers testified before King Charles and adopted Psalm 119:46 as their maxim, “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings, and will not be put to shame.” You too are called to testify. In your planning and your purposes; your allocation of time, treasures, and talents; your mindset, perspective and worldview. The Christians’ life is meant to be an open book testifying to the mercy of God in Christ.
The Scripture says, “We live by faith, not by sight.”5 How foolish the Magi must have appeared to their countrymen! How silly the shepherds who told of angels and a newborn King! How nonsensical this prospect of a Saviour. And yet Herod was enraged, Pontius Pilate was confounded and countless rulers since have felt threatened by this ‘foolishness’ – the message of the cross, God-in-the-flesh Immanuel. His presence is no cause for fear, only unending joy.
+ In nomine Jesu +
The Epiphany Of Our Lord
6 January 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Hebrews 12:1-2
2 See Acts 18:21
3 Ephesians 3:10-11
4 Isaiah 60:1
5 2 Corinthians 5:7