05 January 2008

Homily - Eve of the Epiphany

This homily was proclaimed earlier this evening at our Evening Prayer on the Eve of the Epiphany. Usually we celebrate an evening Divine Service on Epiphany (6 January) and showcase our children's choir called the Kantorei (with a benefit reception following the service). However, since Epiphany itself falls on Sunday this year, we chose to begin the Epiphany celebration with Evening Prayer, complete with Kantorei singing and brass and strings playing. What a joyous way to open the door to tomorrow's Epiphany Feast!

Gifts for the King
Matthew 2:1-12

“What do you get for the person who has everything?” We often ask that when we go Christmas shopping. Some people are just hard to shop for. Either they already have everything that you may want to give, or you just don’t know what they need or want. What do you get for that person who has everything?

We can ask the same thing of the Christ Child. What do you give to the King who has everything? After all, even as a newborn infant on Christmas or as a toddler on Epiphany King Jesus already owns everything, doesn’t He? “The earth is the LORD’s, and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell in therein” (Ps. 24:1). Also remember, this Word-made-Flesh made all things long before He took on Flesh, “without Him was not anything made that was made” (Jn. 1:3).

What do you give to the King who has everything? The Magi can show us. They came all the way from Persia, or modern-day Iraq. Perhaps they knew of the coming Messiah from Daniel and other exiles from Israel over five centuries before Christ came. Perhaps they figured out the coming of the Bright Morning Star from studying the stars themselves. At any rate, they came. They came specifically to worship the Newborn King. A brief stop in the royal city of Jerusalem revealed that the New King was not there; only wicked King Herod was. The star led them on to Bethlehem. Once in the house with the Virgin and Child, they gave their gifts. Of course, we remember the gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but let’s not forget the worship. First, they fell down and worshiped Him, and then they opened their treasures.

What do you get for the King who has everything? Why, of course, gifts that honor who He is—God and Man in one Person. Incense is a gift for God. It speaks of the gift of faith. It speaks of prayer ascending to God in response to His goodness. Myrrh is a gift for a Man. This gift looks ahead to the death of Jesus, true God and true Man, on the cross and His proper burial. And gold—it’s the gift fit for a king. Some say that this gold probably supplied the needs of the humble Holy Family for many years.

But the Magi offered much more than these material gifts; they offered their faith and their worship. The incense, the myrrh, and the gold were simply the first fruits of that faith. The Magi fell down and worshiped Him. You see, they trusted the promise of God’s Savior who would come into the world to restore all humanity to God Himself. When these Wise Men looked at the humble Infant Jesus, their physical eyes see Him in “such mean estate.” But their eyes of faith see beyond the lowliness. They see the God who came to make all people rich in His mercy.

The Magi saw in this humble Child “the Sun of righteousness” Who arises “with healing in His wings” (Mal. 4:2). This holy Toddler would heal all people from the wounds, the sores, and the scars of their sins. The warmth of His mercy and forgiveness would radiate out for all to enjoy. He would heal the breach between Jew and Gentile; He would make them one nation in His Church.

When the Magi looked at this holy Son of Mary, they saw that the light had come; they saw that the glory of the LORD had risen upon them (Is. 60:1). Their eyes of faith could see that “because of the tender mercy of our God…the sunrise shall visit us from on high” And why did He come? “To give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Lk. 1:78-79). Yes, this holy Child brings the new day of life with God and resurrection from the dead. Even as you face the darkness of death—whether in ill health or in the midst of grief—the dawn of a new day has come. The holy Child sitting on the Virgin’s lap is “the bright morning Star” (Rev. 22:16). The best gift that the Wise Men bring to the King of the universe in humble guise is their faith.

So, what will you give to the King who has everything, the Child who radiates God’s boundless mercy? What will you give to the Savior who makes you whole and gives you peace with God? What will you give to the Word made Flesh who heals you from your disease of death and the sores of your sins?

You could certainly offer Him gold, the gift befitting a King. Actually, since all things and all wealth already belong to Him, your Lord Jesus bids you to give Him gold by giving it to the poor. As Jesus will say on the Last Day, when you feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, you do it to Him. And what better way to give your gold to your King than to the poor in our own midst, in His family, the Church. You might even consider giving it to the children’s choir called Kantorei, because you know that they will use that “gold” to “Sing out! Ring out” and “Tell the story!” that “Great is he, the King of glory” (LSB 395:5).

I suppose you could certainly still give incense, both literally and figuratively. As we sang tonight in Evening Prayer, “Let my prayer rise before you as incense.” Offer your prayers to the God who promises to hear you and answer you, because He identifies with you and your troubles in this world. Not only did God prescribe sweet smelling incense for the tabernacle and temple worship, but now that the Son of God has a human nose and enjoys the sense of smell, He’s sure to enjoy the sweet fragrance that accompanies your prayers. That’s why we gather in the Lord’s house regularly—to offer up prayers on behalf of the Church, the world, and all sorts of needs. And we offer them as sweet-smelling incense to our God and Savior.

As for giving myrrh to the Child King, that’s definitely not necessary. Remember, the myrrh was for His crucifixion and burial. And since “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10), He does not need to die again. “For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life that He lives He lives to God” (Rom. 6:10). And because of Jesus’ one-time sacrifice, you get to “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11).

What else can you give to the King who has everything? Most of all, you can give Him your faith and your worship, just as the Wise Men did. Just as they left their country in the East, you can leave the country of your self-serving desires and sinful ways. Just as they endured the arduous journey, you can endure the trials of your journey through this world, learning to trust your Savior. And just as they bowed down to the Almighty King when they saw Him in humble guise, you can bow down to your God who still comes to you in humble ways.

Behind the humble water, you can see God’s life-changing washing of forgiveness and life. Behind the humble words from the pastor’s mouth—in sermons or in Absolution—you can hear and recognize the voice of your Savior who heals you from all sins and enables you to live with God again. And behind the humble bread and wine, you can see Jesus coming to you in the Body and Blood that He assumed from His Virgin Mother, Body and Blood that are the “medicine of immortality.”

Just as the Wise Men saw the Child Jesus sitting on His Mother’s lap, we get to see Jesus in the bosom of the Church. She is the Mother of our faith and life with God. So, the best thing you can give to this King is … yourself, your faith, your worship, your whole life. After all, that’s what He has done for you. “For Christ goes with us all the way—Today, tomorrow, ev’ry day! His love is never ending!” (LSB 395:5).

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