Saturday, January 8, 2011

Christmass for the Outsiders

The Epiphany of Our Lord, January 6th 2011
Text: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ + Amen.

            Where is He who has been born King of the Jews for we have seen his star in the east and we have come to worship Him?  That’s what the magi asked Herod.

            And now that the bowl games are all but over, the after-Christmass sales have been picked through, tossed aside and replaced with pink and red hearts and all those cookies and treats have moved from your counter-top to - well, let’s just say, your stomach - it appears that Christmass is finally over.  For some this brings sadness –loved ones are gone, it’s time to go home and put away all the decorations.  For others this means reprieve: the relatives are gone, you finally get to go home and what a relief, no more schmaltzy Christmass music repeating every hour at Target. 
            After all the tinsel and glitter you’re left asking the same question:  “Where is He who is born King of the Jews that I might go and worship him?  Where did Christmass go?  It was over before it even began!”

            In a twist of irony it seems that once all the ribbons and lights, trees and ornaments are down you finally find the real and enduring meaning of christmass in the Church.  Here in the Church the real Christmass never goes away. 

            That’s the promise of Epiphany.  It’s a continuation of Christmass, and yet it’s a season unto itself.  At Christmass the Word was made flesh.  During Epiphany we see God’s glory revealed in the flesh and blood of the man Jesus, manifested in Jordan, at Cana, calming the sea, seeking and saving the lost.   Which is why Epiphany has also been called “Christmass to the Gentiles.”  The Magi – the first gentiles to worship Jesus – were led by the star to Bethlehem where they found Jesus.  Christmass for the outsiders.      
            But it’s not so much about the wise-dudes searching for the newborn King, as it is the Light of this newborn King finding them; not so much about the gifts they bring – although they’re important – but about the One they fall down and worship: Little child Jesus.

            We probably have a camel-load full of questions about Epiphany: how many magi were there, 3, 33, 300?  Where did they come from?  How long did they travel?  Was the star a natural or miraculous phenomenon?  Was Jesus closer to 6 months or 2 years old?  And the list goes on and on.
            Where is He who is born King of the Jews?  That’s the Epiphany question.  And if you answer this question right the rest of Jesus’ life – and the whole church year - falls into place.
            The magi asked the right question, but in the wrong place, Jerusalem.  The capital.  The holy, royal city.  King Herod the Great was there.  Although as history reminds us, he wasn’t really a king and he wasn’t all that great either.  But it makes sense that the magi would go there.  If a king of the Jews was to be born, where else would he be but crawling around the halls of Herod’s palace? 
            However, Herod was not the Great King foretold by the Micah and Isaiah and the prophets.  To find this King, they had to find Bethlehem.  And to find Bethlehem they had to go to the Word of the prophets:

And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.

            So it’s off to Bethlehem.  The star reappears - like a divinely ordained global positioning unit this light guides the magi to the Light of the World.   the star was amazing, the journey was arduous, the gifts were fit for a king – but the magi fall down on their knees and touch their foreheads to the ground, the deepest sign of respect there is in the Middle East, and they worship the little Child. 

            Where is He who is born King of the Jews?  The Magi do not worship God in the highest heavens.  They worship the Child, the baby Jesus.  The glory of the Lord is not in the burning bush or in the pillar of fire, nor in the tabernacle or the temple but in the flesh and blood of Jesus, this little baby who bears your flesh and blood.  This little baby, who can’t even articulate a meaningful Hebrew word is the eternal Word by whom all things were made.  The magi were led by a star to the Child Jesus, through whom all stars were created.  They fall down and worship the Star of Jacob who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.

            Jesus’ birth may have been poor and lowly and His crib no more than a feeding trough.  But, His manger is wide enough for the whole sinful world and all the havoc and chaos in it.    The radiance of God’s glory manifested, made known, revealed and shining through the flesh and blood of Jesus. 

            Maybe Epiphany finds you lonely after a rough holiday season with family….maybe Epiphany finds you mourning, waiting, hopeful, overwhelmed, confused or lost in the darkness of sin, death and the devil.  When the world is at its absolute darkest Christ’s salvation is most radiant.
            Where is He who is born King of the Jews?  He is nailed to a tree.  Behold the Light of the World whose death is covered by the darkness of sin.  This too is epiphany…the One mounting the cross is God in our flesh.  He reigns from His crib, His mother’s lap and now the cross.  No kingly accessories in sight: only a crown of thorns; a throne of wood; and a robe of blood.

            When the world is at its darkest hour.  The sun shrouded in darkness.  God is hung on the cross.  Jesus’ greatest glory.  Your greatest glory – Jesus, swaddled in your death destroying death.  That’s how far God is willing.  To bring you back to Him.  To save you from sin, death and hell.  To find you.  To Epiphany Himself for you.  And again the sign: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.  Arise, shine; your light has come.  Go and tell your neighbors, friends, co-workers that they too might come and worship Him.

There’s no need for a star; that was for the Persians.  God has other signs for you and the world. 

            What God began in Bethlehem He continues in the Lord’s Supper.  After all, Bethlehem means House of Bread.  And that’s exactly what this altar is: your bread box, your Bethlehem.    That’s why Christmass is never really Christmass without Holy Communion and the Holy Communion means that God’s people are again celebrating Christmass.  You don’t need to go on a 700 mile camel-journey to find God; just get out of bed on Sunday morning – or Thursday evening - and come to your Bethlehem.                
            Where is He who is born King of the Jews?  In His Word, a Lamp shining in dark places.  In your Baptism, a daily reminder that Christmass never ceases.  In the Lord’s Supper - His House of bread and wine.  Every Lord’s Supper celebrated is Christmass all over again.  Here the Living Bread who comes down from heaven is the Child in the manger and is now given to us at the altar.  Here you worship and adore on bended knee The same Jesus who was worshiped and adored by the magi. A Child, a King, your Savior.
In the Name of Jesus+ Amen.

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