06 January 2008

Homily - Epiphany of Our Lord

Actions Speak Louder than Words
Matthew 2:1-12

“Actions speak louder than words.” No doubt, you’ve heard that saying, and you know exactly what it means. Another person can speak a promise to you, but his action of keeping that promise says much more than the mere promise. A spouse can say, “I love you,” but unless those words are backed up by actions of love, devotion, and commitment, then the words ring hollow. “Actions speak louder than words.” Somehow, we just know how true it is.

It’s even truer for God, especially on this day of celebrating the Epiphany of our Lord. As soon as Adam and Eve had fallen into the deep, dark hole of sin and death, the hole of separating themselves and the whole human race from God, God made a promise to save them and the whole human race. You remember the promise. God spoke to the deceiving serpent and said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). God gave His promise, and the human race would eagerly wait to witness His actions of fulfilling that promise. Actions speak louder than words.

Through the centuries God gave plenty of actions to save and redeem His chosen people, Israel – the exodus from Egypt; the tabernacle worship; the royal line of David; the temple worship; the return from Babylonian exile. But what about the rest of the human race? The rest of the world was still waiting for God’s actions to confirm His gracious words. As we heard in our first reading, the Prophet Isaiah had promised God’s actions for all nations: “the LORD will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” And speaking of those nations from around the globe, Isaiah also said, “They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring the good news, the praises of the LORD.” Those were God’s words. Now, what about His actions to speak His grace and mercy loudly and clearly for all nations?

That’s what Epiphany is all about. God’s action in sending His Son into the world speaks quite loudly. The Son of God taking on human flesh to restore us to God’s favor and life with God speaks quite loudly. But if He had remained secluded in a tiny corner in the little town of Bethlehem, unannounced and not adored, then a small whisper would speak much more loudly. No, the Infant God in the flesh chose to reveal Himself beyond the bounds of Israel and to all nations. And His epiphany, His appearing, to the Magi speaks louder than words. Isaiah’s words gave the promise; Jesus’ appearing to the Magi gives the loud-sounding action.

We can see how the actions of the Magi spoke at first. They sought the newborn King of the Jews, and so they journeyed to Jerusalem. Resting on their own wisdom, their actions showed that they didn’t quite get it, not just yet. The divine King would not be found in the human centers of power. They still needed to hear the words and promises of God.

We can see how the actions of King Herod spoke. He was greatly troubled at the mere thought of a king other than himself. Even though he said that he wanted to worship the Child, his later actions betrayed him. Instead of seeking to worship the Holy Child, he wanted exterminate Him. We can see this by his action of slaughtering the Holy Innocents in Bethlehem.

So, let’s return to the Magi, now as they are led to the Christ Child. Their actions speak louder than words. And have you ever noticed that now the Magi say absolutely nothing? No words; just actions. The star leads them to the house where they find Mary and Jesus. Yes, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” when they saw the star. And they don’t say a word – at least not as Scripture records the epiphany for us. But their actions speak quite loudly and quite well.

“And going into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother….” Actions speak louder than words! They saw the Christ Child – the Word of God made flesh, the Savior of the world, sitting in His mother’s lap. Imagine the awe and wonder. I don’t know about you, but I’d sure be speechless. Notice how God’s actions of coming and appearing sparked their actions of bowing and offering.

“…They fell down and worshiped him.” Their worship did not make Him the Christ-Child. Their worship did not cause Him to come and appear for all nations to receive. Rather, they fell down and worshiped because that’s just what you do when you come into the presence of the living God. Actions speak louder than words! Being in the presence of the Creator and Savior of the world calls for different actions, non-everyday actions.

“Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” As Leo the Great proclaimed, the gold was for the King, the incense, for God, and the myrrh, for Man. The action of this offering spoke quite loudly: this Child is the God-Man, the King who comes to save all people from their sins. This royal Child, God in humble human guise, comes specifically to live our human life, to die our death, and to bring us back to life with God. After all, it’s through His death on a cross that He conquers death and forgives sins. And since He is God in the flesh, death cannot contain Him. His resurrection brings life for all who cling to Him in faith, for all who bow down before Him. Yes, actions speak louder than words. His actions rescue and redeem us, and they free us to bow before Him just as the Magi did.

This is the great mystery that St. Paul proclaims to us today. This Christ Child, this Infant Savior, comes not just for Israelites, but also for us Gentiles. This Infant King who would ascend the throne of His cross comes not just for the “good religious people,” but also for sinners such as us. St. Paul said it this way: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” God’s actions in sending His Son and revealing Him to the nations spoke quite loudly: He reconciles all people – even us – to Himself!

So, what about our actions in response? Do our actions speak loudly that we are followers of the Holy Child? Do they speak loudly and clearly that this Holy Child is the God-Man who comes to reconcile us with God? We could go in many different directions, but today let’s focus on actions in worship. Yes, actions speak louder than words even in the liturgy. For example, do you join in singing the hymns, or do you just stand there and gawk around? Do you participate in the prayers by bowing your head, folding your hands, and saying, “Lord, have mercy” or “Hear our prayer,” or are you figuring out what’s for lunch when you get home? Actions do speak louder than words.

When we process in at the beginning of the Divine Service, our actions communicate something: we are entering the presence of the living God, God-in-the-Flesh, God-with-us even now. When we stand for the Gospel reading, for the Creed and the Prayers, and for the liturgy of Communion, we confess that God is truly with us, to reveal Himself by forgiving us. When we kneel at the Communion rail, we tell the world that we humbly bow before our King, and we gratefully receive His mercy in Body and Blood.

Let me recommend another action that speaks quite loudly, and it goes with some familiar words. In the Creed we say, “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven.” Let’s bow when we say these words. After all, it’s a great mystery that the Son of God would come down from heaven, take on our skin and bones, be one of us, live among us, die for us, and rise again for us, and thus bring us salvation. Let’s bow, literally and physically, when we confess our Lord’s Incarnation. And then, right after we say, “and was made man,” let’s stand up straight again. After all, we wouldn’t want to join the mock worship of the soldiers when our Lord “was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.” So, don’t be shy to bow when we confess our Lord’s Incarnation. Christians have done it for centuries.

Yes, actions speak louder than words. Certainly our Lord’s actions of coming and revealing Himself speak quite loudly to save and comfort us. Our actions can speak quite loudly too, as we bow before Him for His great mercy and life. Amen.


William Weedon said...

Goodness, another one of these Romanizing pastors, interested in ceremonies as though...actions spoke louder than words. :)

Randy Asburry said...

Just keeping with the Scriptures...whatever label that might lend! ;-)

Besides, I didn't know that the Magi came from Rome! :-)