Friday, January 6, 2012

Epiphany Sermon: "Lost and Found"

+ Epiphany of Our Lord – January 6th, 2012 +
Text: Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
Theme: Epiphany is a season where the lost are found in Christ

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

            The season of Epiphany shines brightly with themes of Christ’s saving work. Literally it means “appearing or revealing”; Christ appearing in human flesh. Christ revealing who He is and what He comes to do for all people, even the nations, the goyim, the gentiles.
            But the image stuck in my head all week was the Lost and Found bin. You know what I’m talking about. Who hasn’t scored a nice t-shirt or new pair of gently-used jeans from a local lost and found? At some point we’ve all rummaged around to find some forgotten hidden treasure.
            It’s great, you receive something that wasn’t yours to begin with; it didn’t belong to you but you get it anyway. It’s free. Take it home. Wash it. Good as new. It’s yours.

            Epiphany is a lot like that: a season for the Lost and Found. A season where Jesus comes and rummages through this world – not for some special over-looked treasure, but for the forgotten, for the lost, for the dead sinners not even looking to be found, for you and me. He searches until he’s found every last one of His wayward sheep, until he’s found his lost coin and welcomed home his prodigal sons. Epiphany is a season where the lost are found in Christ.

            That’s where the magi come in. Israel, once exiled in the east, now beckons astrologers from the east to seek Israel’s true King. That’s who they were looking for - not an after-Christmas-bargain but a king. “Where is he who is born king of the Jews?”

            Only problem is, Herod has no answer. He’s too busy trying to protect his throne of lies to care about the real King of the Jews. Thankfully, the prophet Micah has the answer:
But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
      Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
      For out of you shall come a Ruler
       Who will shepherd My people Israel.

            Micah points the magi in the right direction. That’s God’s way of things. Through his Word to Jesus. The lost are found in Bethlehem, and wherever Jesus makes himself known. So it is for all who are lost.

            And maybe that’s where you find yourself this New Year. Maybe you’ve lost something this past year. Job. Home. Money. Health. Something or someone special to you – although truth is, the dead in Christ are never lost. It’s easy to lose hope. Lose patience. Lose your way in the darkness of sin and death in this world.
            That’s where we find ourselves apart from Christ; apart from his Word; apart from His sacraments: Lost. We need His Word daily, by the hour, by the minute, by the millisecond; and his sacraments – we can never get too much of Christ’s good things. The Sacrament is our “star” where Jesus does one better than the magi, he points to himself and gives you himself.

            Fear not. His Epiphany is for you. Not for you to find your way to him, but for Jesus to come and find you who were lost. The Light of the world comes to shine upon you who sit in darkness. In Epiphany, the Sun of Righteousness shines from Bethlehem all the way to Huntington Beach to you.           
            God gave the magi a star. But you don’t need a star. You have something better, more tangible. You have the prophets and apostles. You have Christ, the Word made flesh in bread and wine. All that you seek – all that you need - is found in Him who finds you. Epiphany is a season where the lost are found in Christ.

            That’s our Lord’s work in Epiphany. Lost sheep. Lost coins. Lost, prodigal sons. If the world was a department store, Jesus’ favorite department would be the Lost & Found. He finds you. Brings you home. Washes you. And you are his. Good as – no better than – new, reborn. A lost sinner found in Christ.
            Jesus is a spendthrift for your salvation. He’s a shopaholic when it comes to your sin – He shops till he drops dead in your sin. Your debt is paid in full; you are redeemed. He’s not satisfied until he’s paid for every last sinner and every last one your sins; and he does it not with gold or silver but with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. That’s not cheap grace…that’s outrageous forgiveness for undeserving sinners. That’s the joy of Epiphany. A season where the Lost who are found in Christ.

            You see, the Christmas cards are all wrong. Jesus isn’t the reason for the season. Jesus didn’t come to earth to throw himself a party. He wasn’t bored. He wasn’t being a super-duper heroic guy. He came for you. You are the reason for the season. You are the reason Christ took on human flesh. You are the reason He located Himself in a specific time, at a specific place in history. Jesus comes to find you.
            That’s the great irony of the Magi’s visit. The king they had travelled so far to find was actually the One who was finding them and seeking them all along. His star. His Word. He finds the lost. So they did the only thing you can do before Jesus; they bowed before the King of the Jews playing around Mary’s ankles. A Divine Service of sorts. And here’s another irony: they brought Jesus gifts – much like our offerings and lives – we give thee but thine own. A living sacrifice. That’s faith. That’s the gift the Christ Child gives to shepherds and magi, Jew and Gentile, even to you and me.
            That’s another reason why the church celebrates Epiphany. It’s the other Christmas. Christmas for the outsiders, the nations, the goyim, the Gentiles. This is good for us because most of our ancestors were running around in animal skins and long hair, dancing around fires worshiping pagan gods just like the magi worshiped the stars.

            But over the years the Gospel made its way into our ancestors’ home by the blood of missionaries. The Gospel went out like a star signaling the nations once again. Yes, God gave those magi a special sign – the star. But it wasn’t until they read the prophet Micah that they knew where to go. That’s your sign too. The Word. The Word made Flesh. The Word that remains flesh and blood for you in the Supper. You want a sign – that things will get better, that there’s hope, life, salvation, daily bread - it’s all here in Jesus death for you.

            It’s not until the end of the Matthew’s Gospel that we get the answer to the Magi’s question…”Where is the one born King of the Jews?”
            Everyone wants to know if Jesus is the King. Even Pontius Pilate doesn’t get a straight answer out of Jesus. But there above his head on Good Friday is the answer. There on the cross is God’s epiphany. There is no star in the sky…only a sign above his head as he hangs crucified for all men: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. O, come let us adore him.

            Unlike the Magi, you didn’t need to hop on your camel and travel hundreds of miles across the desert to worship Jesus this evening. And you don’t need a star to guide you either. Here is your Bethlehem; your house of bread. Christ the Lord comes to you here. Leads you here. Brings you home. Washes you. Makes you his own. You, and all who are lost, are found in Jesus.

            But you are like the Magi in this, that you go home another way, a new person, carrying the Light of Christ with you into the world, into your vocations, to your neighbor in need with the light of Christ. Because Epiphany is a season where the lost are found in Christ.

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

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