Sunday, January 8, 2012

Epiphany Sermon for Zion

Epiphany Observed – Matthew 2:1-12 – January 8th, 2012

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Today we are marking the beginning of the season of Epiphany – the season where the same Christ Jesus who has come down from Heaven is revealed to the nations – and so for the next few weeks leading up unto Lent, our readings will be focused upon Christ Jesus being revealed, of His divinity being shown to the nations. And to start, we begin with the story of the Wise Men who come from the East and bring Him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But instead of focusing on the Wise Men, instead of just jumping to Bethlehem, let’s consider Herod and Jerusalem for a bit. Here is how our Lesson begins: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold wise men from the east came to Jerusalem saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose in and have come to worship Him.’” First things first – with the wise men you have a joyous proclamation – that the King of the Jews, the promised Messiah has been born. And this is not just any old king, this is a wondrous King, so awesome that even those from distant lands know that they ought to come and worship Him. This child who is born is not only a King for the Jews, but a King for all nations – and not only a King, but the True God made Man who is worthy of worship. These wise men are announcing that everything the Old Testament had prophesied, everything the people of Israel were supposed to be looking to was at hand.

And yet, what is the reaction? “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” It apparently was a big deal, these wise men coming. I mean, not only Herod hears about it, but all of Jerusalem – it’s big news. It’s good news. And yet, what is the response? People are troubled. They are fearful. Why? Why is there fear and disconcertion at such good news? Well, Herod – we can tell that Herod is worried about his position. He’s the king, but if there is a new king, well, that means he gets replaced – so Herod even plots to have Christ’s life snuffed out as an infant. And as for the people of Jerusalem – there would be change and turmoil, and their comfortable lives might be upset. The Christ would come to bring justice and mercy and righteousness, and the every day humdrum of their lives would be overturned – and we cannot have that… and so they are troubled.

Does it seem strange to think that the reaction of so many people to the revelation of Christ Jesus, to the announcement that He has come, would be to be troubled? It shouldn’t, because whenever the Gospel of Christ is preached, whenever the Good News is revealed, it will always be troubling to those who are self-focused and concerned with worldly respect. If a person’s first thoughts are about the here and now and making a buck and acquiring earthly power, then the Gospel of Christ is upsetting. Christ coming reminds people that they are not the ones ultimately in control – that He is. Christ’s coming reminds us that this world and all the things that we treasure in it will pass away. Christ’s coming reminds us that He is the center of all things, not us. And sinful man hates all these truths. Sinful man wants and craves power and might, and thus hates Christ.

But you realize, my dear friends, I haven’t been talking just about things that only those bad people out there think about. I’ve been talking about what hits us here in this room. I’ve been talking about how Satan tries to attack you, tries to attack me. The Christian life is one of trust in God and service to the neighbor – a life where we place our well being in God’s hands as we simply serve our neighbors without thought or worry about what we will receive in return, without concern over what we will achieve. We show love simply because love is what should be shown, even to our enemies and those who hate us, knowing that God will provide what success He desires, and also trusting that God will tend to our needs. We know this, we are well trained in this – but doesn’t it seem like having this approach gets a little bit harder and harder every day, doesn’t it, even in this place? We labor, we work, we strive to have a good and thriving congregation… and well, who seems to care? It seems as though less people show up to things, it seems as though it’s harder to get people to help, it seems like nothing goes on, nothing goes well. I know that’s what it seems like, I hear it from y’all, I feel it myself. And here’s the thing – it’s not really true. Okay, yes, our attendance is down, but other than that, we are a pretty vibrant congregation. Our calendar was full these past two months with activities and parties and opportunities to serve. We’ve fed the poor and given gifts to those who’ve got nothing, we’ve rejoiced and celebrated with each other – we have people volunteering to do more and more around the congregation – and we have plenty lying ahead with our anniversary next week and then Groundhog a few weeks after that. Our bible studies have been doing well – things are good. That is the reality - and yet – it is easy to ignore this and rather simply think about attendance numbers, and then we become disheartened, and we can get worn down and worn out. It’s so easy to be troubled.

I read of Herod, I read of Jerusalem being troubled, and I think of our own troubles here. In reality, Herod and Jerusalem had nothing to worry about – they were receiving good news and blessing, but because of their fear and worries, they didn’t see it as good news. Satan had blinded them, he had blinded them to the good news of what God was giving them in Christ Jesus and how God was blessing them. And how did Satan blind them? By shifting their focus away from Christ and onto their own fears and concerns about their status and power and what people thought of them and their own ease and comfort. Dear friends in Christ – do not let Satan do the same to you. So often our fears revolve around what people will think about us, how they will react to us. We become worried about what *we* can do to entice them, to cajole them, to manipulate them into… well, showing up and making us feel better about ourselves and our congregation. And the thing is, that’s just a path of sorrow and pain. Why? Because when we think about trying to please everybody, we forget to focus on the Christ Jesus whom they and we need. Because when we think this way we become focused on every hurt, every slight that we might feel, every time someone says no or shows indifference – and we focus on our pain and hurt. We get so caught up in stuff, in the humdrum junk of life that we forget to focus on the wondrous truth. Christ Jesus is our God and Lord, and He has won us the victory over sin, death, and the devil. This is true. This is our reality, this is the good news that should shape every moment of our lives, that should brighten every moment of our lives, that should constantly be upon our tongues – Christ Jesus the Light of the world is our light and our life – He has come to be our King, and even if the world comes crashing down around us – so be it, He is the God who has suffered and died and risen for us, so we know that no matter what we face, we too will rise with Him – it’s a done deal. And when we are focused upon Christ, when we see things through Him, through what He has done for us, what He continues to do for us and through us here – then we have joy, then that fear is cast out. Do we not receive forgiveness in this place every week? Do we not have every opportunity to learn together, to work together, to care for each other? The world can’t change that, the sins and indifference of our neighbors and loved ones can’t change that, our fears and insecurities can’t change that. And yet, we are so easily tempted to think like Herod, to think like Jerusalem, to be blinded to the love of Christ and rather be focused upon immediate fears and worries.

“After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped him.” The wise men, who are rightly called wise – they paid no attention to the troubles of Herod. They didn’t abandon their journey when Jerusalem around them murmured in fear. Even though they had already traveled long and far, even though the countryside around them seemed to be getting more and more troubled – that was not their focus. Instead, they were focused upon Christ, and seeing Him, worshipping Him, they were filled with joy. This is true wisdom. To see, to behold Christ Jesus, to know His salvation. That’s what the Wise Men see – this is God come to earth, come to earth for them, to win salvation with His death upon the cross for them. Everything else pales in comparison. Dear friends in Christ, Your Lord has still gone to the cross to pay the penalty for your sin, and you are forgiven. Your Lord Christ Jesus has still risen victoriously from the grave, and so no matter what this world throws at you, at us, you will rise and live eternally with Him. This is truth, and in His love for you, Christ Jesus continues to draw your eyes unto Himself, He continues to reveal Himself to you here, to shine His light and pour His love upon you in His Word, in His Supper. God is at work here for you, reviving and restoring you. Nothing can change that, nothing can separate you from Christ’s love. So let us be bold in focusing upon that love, upon receiving it, upon sharing it, upon pointing others to it and inviting them to join in receiving His gifts with us. What will happen – well, concerning numbers or anything like that – I cannot say. But I can tell you what will happen. Christ will be here for you, and He will forgive you, and He will give you growth in love and wisdom and compassion so that you will be better prepared to face whatever dourness this world throws at you. Your Savior is here for you, He has been revealed to you, and He will never abandon you, for He is indeed your light and your life, and no darkness shall ever overcome Him. God grant that we learn this ever more. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World + Amen.

No comments: