Sunday, January 06, 2013

Sermon for 1/6/13--The Epiphany of Our Lord

Sorry about the layoff, y'all.


Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The story of the Magi is one that is shrouded in mystery. Who were they? Where did they come from? And why did they come in the first place? There have been any number of suggestions made as to the origin of the Magi. We are told that they came from the East, but that could refer to any number of places. Whatever their origin, what was it that motivated them to give the gifts they did? What did those gifts say about what they knew of the infant King? What we can say with certainty is what Matthew tells us by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Magi came from the East. They were drawn by a star which they understood to be a sign for the birth of the Savior King. They came to worship Him, and as a part of their devotion offered Him the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And then they escaped into history.

Even if we cannot answer all the questions about who they were and where they came from, the gifts they brought are not so mysterious. Indeed, their significance is rooted in Holy Scripture. The first gift they brought Him was gold. Gold means wealth and power, glory and magnificence. No doubt, in the simplicity and humility of the infant Savior’s surroundings, gold probably seemed out of place. It was a sign that things were not as they seemed. Even though His throne was first a manger and then the lap of His mother, He was and is King. All of the wealth and magnificence of the world is His by right. There is nothing we can give the King which is not already His. The gift of gold says just that; we are merely returning to Him what is His to begin with.

They brought Him the gift of incense. Incense means that this King Jesus is also God. Consider the words of the liturgy of Evening prayer which we will pray together during Lent: “Let my prayers be set forth before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” Throughout the Old Testament, frankincense was used with the sacrificial offerings made to God; it provided an aroma that was pleasing to God. Its smoke accompanied the prayers of the faithful to the throne of grace. To this day incense is used even by Lutherans to remind worshipers that the prayers of the faithful are something pleasing to God. Frankincense identifies Jesus as God, the only One who should ever receive our worship, and the only One to whom our prayers should be raised.

And they brought Him the gift of myrrh. Myrrh tells us that King Jesus, the God-man, is also the sacrifice appointed for sin. Extracted from the wood of the tree of the same name, myrrh was used in oils and ointments and in perfumes. It came to be used as one of the primary embalming ointments of that culture.  Myrrh was used to prepare a body for burial. It was a strange gift to offer a newly born child. But this was not any Child. This was God’s Son, who had come to this earth in human flesh. Right from the beginning the cross hovered over all He would do and say. Death for the sins of the world was His inevitable goal. The gift of myrrh confirmed this to be the truth of God, a truth that surpasses and even defies human understanding.

These gifts of the Magi represented more than just the Magi. These men were the first Gentile visitors to come and see Him who was born King of the Jews. Because the star God put there led them to the infant Savior, there has been an unceasing pigrimage of others who have been drawn to Him, to receive from Him the gifts of life and salvation and the joy and peace that comes with the remission of sins.

What gifts can we give Him now? By what offerings can we imitate the Magi who came bearing gifts so long ago? We can take to heart, and then speak with hearts full of faith, those words of the Psalmist: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?  I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.  I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people.” It is God Himself who is the great Giver of gifts. He has given us His only-begotten Son, the One full of grace and truth, to be our Redeemer and our Lord. The gift that we can return to Him, which means more than all other gifts together, is to receive joyfully and faithfully the gifts He gives us, and then, like the Magi, fall before Him in worship and praise. Like the Magi, worship and praise are the gifts we bring in thanksgiving to Him who is our Savior and King. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

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