Saturday, January 5, 2008

Epiphany Sermon 2008

You know, when talking about the One Year series - I like to point out how things are always different when the text comes around the next year, so there is always something new to write.

Well. . .

Last Year, I tried to introduce having a service on Epiphany - a new custom. There had been a snow storm, and a basketball game was rescheduled (so obviously, my head elder who is the head coach wasn't going to be there) for that night. It was late. It was cold. It was a Saturday, so there would be Church the next day. And one person showed. So, instead of the full service, we did a brief Vespers with more of a discussion on the text (which is what I do at Matins if there is anyone there, so it was natural for me to do so).

Jump to this year. Advent and Christmastide kicked me around. As in, since the week of Thanksgiving I have fought off two relapses of mono (thankfully when I started to go down hill, I cut myself off, slept a day, and got back on my feet in a reasonable amount of time) and one bout of what apparently was some type of stomach flu.

Needless to say, I was somewhat worn out. So I took it lightly this week - as much as is possible for a week where there is an additional service. And since I had not preached it - I pulled out last year's sermons, did a few modifications of slight note on the computer - and I shall, God willing, preach it tomorrow. It follows below.

And note, if this seems apt for any discussions which you might be having - I wrote it last year.

Epiphany – January 6th, 2008 – Matthew 2:1-12

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Today, dear friends, we celebrate Epiphany – the fact that indeed Christ Jesus is a Light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of His people Israel. Epiphany is the time of the Church year where we look at Christ Jesus and we see that this Child, this Man preaching and teaching is in fact true God. During the weeks of Epiphany, we see and behold the evidence that this is no simple person, but rather is True God and True Man, and that He has come into the world to win salvation for all people, for the whole world. To start off Epiphany, we hear the story of the wise men, of the Magi from the East – we see the first gentiles who worship Christ the King.

Now, to understand the significance of this event, of the wise men coming to worship Christ, you need to understand the mindset of Judea at the time of Christ’s birth. The people of Israel had lost their way. They had forgotten who they were and why they existed. Oh, they knew that they were God’s Chosen people, a people special to the One True God, but they forgot for what reason they were set apart. God had called Abraham, had called Israel apart from other people to be the lineage that would produce the Messiah. The Lord gave to the people of Israel the Law through Moses, not to make them better people, for the Law does not give life, but to hold them separate from the world. Circumcision, the Sabbath Day, the dietary laws, the purification laws – these were not about morality or right and wrong – rather, all these laws kept the people of Israel separate and distinct from all the other peoples of the world. And why? So that the people of Israel by their very existence, by their uniqueness would be a constant reminder to the rest of the world that the LORD God would send forth a Messiah, a savior to redeem not just the people of Israel, but the whole world.

Over the course of time, by in large the people of Israel had forgotten that. A few faithful men and women remembered that the promises of salvation were for all – Simeon knew that Jesus was a light to the gentiles, Mary knew that all generations, Jewish and Gentile alike would call her blessed. But most folks had forgotten. You see this in how they viewed the Messiah. The expectations were that the Messiah would chase off the Romans, restore the Kingdom of Israel on earth. The idea was that the nation of Israel was to rule and have power – that’s what it meant to be God’s special people. They forgot that their purpose was to serve others, that the Lord promised Abraham that all people would be blessed through him, not fall at his feet. Even in the early Church this was problematic – Peter has to be told directly by God that the dietary laws are no more – Paul has problems with the Judiazers wherever he goes. The idea that salvation was for the gentiles, for those outside the people of Israel went against false thoughts of power and glory that were ingrained hard and fast, and it took a while for people to get over their false dreams of power.

Let this be a warning to us here, dear friends. We too, like the people of Israel, are within the house of God. We have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light. But why? So that we might have power and glory? So that we might lord it over others? So that we might look at the people out there and feel smug and say, “I am so much better than them”? I don’t even have to answer that, you know these attitudes are wrong. But Satan’s tricks are old, and the same deception he worked on the people of Israel he tries to work on the Church today. Satan tries to get us to lose our focus, to forget why we exist. So why does this Congregation, why does Zion Lutheran Church stand today, why has God allowed this building to be here for 100 years? It is not meant to be a place where the “good people” go. It is not meant to be a place simply where our family gathers. It is not meant to be a private, holy club that others are too lowly to join. Yet sadly, sometimes, even unthinkingly and unintentionally, these are the attitudes we end up taking. We can unthinkingly establish an us versus them type of attitude – and we can be cold and indifferent to the stranger, to our neighbors who as of yet are not of the faith. We can unthinkingly become prideful in our own so-called righteousness, and become stilted and jaded, just like the people of Israel were of old.

So why does this congregation exist? The Wisemen show us. And going into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him. That’s what this house is for. This is a place where we are to come, and not just us, not just our family, not just our friends, not just the people we happen to like, but this is a place where all people are to come and worship Christ. This house is to be a place where Christ is proclaimed, where He is revealed to us in His Word and in His Sacraments, this house is to be a place where salvation and the forgiveness of sins shines forth to all people who need it. The wise men were strangers and foreigners, they were outsiders, and yet they are welcomed into Joseph’s house to worship Christ. This is an example and a reminder to us – that this congregation is to be a place of worship, a place where any and all people can come and receive salvation. In fact, we are to be a beacon, a lamp on a hill, we are to call all people here to behold the wonders of God and to delight in His salvation. When we see people who are not our members, we shouldn’t look at them and see people who don’t belong. We shouldn’t see people who are different. Rather this – we should see people who ought to be our members, we should see people whom we should help to see the Light of Christ and hope that they join us, learn of Christ, become part of our fellowship here. We should see them, and realize that they ought to be here and that God indeed wants them here.

Sadly, sometimes we get in the way of that. Our prejudices and dislikes can get in the way. We can be quite comfortable where we are at, and new folks, new blood as it were, might bring too many changes. We can desire this house to be our house – the way we want it to be - rather than God’s House where His Word which calls forth all people takes the day. Our sin, our sinful desires and jealousies and dislikes and grudges can cover the Light of Christ which shines here. Of this, we need to repent. This Church is to gladly let Christ shine forth, not cover Him up, not hide Him under a bushel, as the old song goes.

Thankfully for us, Christ Jesus knows well how to deal with us, how to handle our sin. The wise men again with their gifts remind us of this. Then opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts teach us about Jesus. Gold. That is a kingly gift. We see and remember from this gift that Jesus Christ is King, that He is the One in charge – that Jesus is the One who executes Justice. And so we are humbled, and so we are brought under the Law, under the King’s rule and reminded that we are to repent, that we are to flee and avoid sin – that we are to strive to live by the Word of the King. And although we often fail in this, although sin still clings to us – in the other two gifts, frankincense and myrrh, we see our hope. Those are gifts of spices, they are the spices which were placed upon a dead body. The wise men remind and point us with their gifts to the Cross. This is why they come to worship – not simply because Christ is King – but because Christ Jesus goes to the Cross and suffers and dies. It is there upon the Cross that Jesus shines forth most brightly, it is there upon the Cross as He cries out “It is Finished” that we see our Lord shine His brightest as He beats down and conquers and destroys sin. That, our Lord Crucified, is why we gather here and worship. Because Christ Jesus has shed His blood and won for us the forgiveness of our sin. St Paul says that He is determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified. That is what we here are to know and focus on, and we are to constantly receive the forgiveness that Christ wins by His crucifixion. We are to use the strength that His forgiveness gives us to beat down our sin so that He can shine forth. We are to delight in His forgiveness in our worship and praise, and we are to delight in the fact that this forgiveness was won for all people, Jew and Gentile alike – family and stranger alike. And so we are brought here, called here by the Word, so that we might repent of our sin and delight in the forgiveness which God has won for us. This is why Zion Lutheran Church still stands – so that your sin, and that the sin of all people who enter here, might be richly forgiven here in God’s House. God comes to us with His Word that our sinful flesh and sinful desires might be overpowered by His Word, that with His strength He might create in us new people by the power of His forgiveness.

Epiphany is the season where Christ Jesus shines forth – where we see more and more His Holiness and His Righteousness shine forth. Light and life have entered the world in Christ Jesus, and He calls all people to His House to bask in the Light of His forgiveness. Christ is here to bring salvation to all who need it. This is our hope and joy, and this is the truth we strive to ever know more and more, and this is the truth that God shows us ever more and more by the forgiveness of our sin daily and richly in His Word and Sacraments here in His House. Amen.

1 comment:

Doorman-Priest said...

A challenging sermon. I preached on Epiphany too: quite a different sermon. Its on the blog if you want a look.