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Epiphany of Our Lord Sermon – Matthew 2:1-12

January 9, 2017

January 6, 2017 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.”’”

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” The Magi ask that question when they arrive in Jerusalem. They came looking for the new monarch of the LORD’s people. What had drawn them to the ancient capital of Israel? The Magi tell the bewildered people of Jerusalem: “For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.” A sign had been given. An astronomical event had been seen and understood. These wise men from the east were led to Israel because of it.

The Magi ask to see the One whose birth had been announced by this sign. In doing so, they fulfill several of the prophetic statements that had been made concerning the LORD’s people and His promised Messiah. Chief among those is the statement that you heard in today’s Old Testament Reading: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but 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.”

The LORD’s glory had come to His people. It was present in the Holy Infant. That is what the Incarnation had brought about, as we heard in the Gospel Reading for Christmas Day: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The appearance of the Magi in Jerusalem began to reveal that the LORD’s glory was now present among His people. That glory would be revealed through what the Holy Infant would accomplish, as He brought grace and truth to a world full of wrath and lies. As the prophetic statements declared, the LORD’s glory was not solely for the benefit of the descendants of Jacob. No, it was meant for all who had been covered by the darkness that rebellion against the LORD’s ways had brought forth: “And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” The arrival of visitors from foreign lands in the east seeking this newly raised up Messiah marked the beginning of this promise being fulfilled.

But how do the Magi witness the LORD’s glory? How do they come to see the One “who has been born King of the Jews?” It wasn’t through the sign of the star alone. That sign had led them to Jerusalem. But the presence of the light shining in the darkness wasn’t found in Herod’s palace. The Magi could not worship Him there. Yet, not all was lost. The lamp of the LORD’s Word would light the way to where His glory could be seen. It happens as the chief priests and scribes of the people recall what the LORD had foretold: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.”

With that Word in their ears, the Magi are sent to the City of David: “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.” Yes, they see the star again. But now it is coupled with the LORD’s declaration about Bethlehem. With those two things present, the Magi can witness and worship the LORD’s Messiah: “And going into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”

We hear this narrative every January. But we should not solely think of it as a detail about the strange happenings at Jesus’ birth. It isn’t just an item in the index of incidents that make Christmas a unique event, alongside the angelic appearances. No, this event teaches us about how the LORD continues to reveal His glory among us and how His Messiah can be encountered. Like the Magi, we also need to know where the One who was born King of the Jews can be found, so that we might worship Him.

So how do we find Him? How do we know anything about Him? Can signs be given? Yes, they certainly can. In fact, some who have been brought to faith in Jesus began that path through the presence of miraculous events that took place in their lives. Yet, the signs alone do not actually bring a true belief. Those who might benefit from a great preservation from harm or a healing still need to know the true identity of Jesus and where the full benefits of the LORD’s glory dwelling among mankind are located. For all of us, it is not in the signs, but in the LORD’s Word.

The LORD’s promise about raising up a Ruler for His people from Bethlehem allowed the Magi to be in the Messiah’s presence and worship Him. Likewise, the testimony about the Messiah found in the LORD’s Words of the Gospels and Epistles brings people into fellowship with the Messiah. That creates faith in Jesus as the King of glory, the LORD mighty in battle, the One with clean hands and a pure heart, who lifted up His soul to what is righteous and carried out the LORD’s plan of salvation. Such testimony about Jesus is only partly found in the miraculous signs. The true revelation is in the preaching about the work that the Incarnate LORD performed for the redemption of the world, so that the darkness of sin and death could be lifted.

Paul mentions this in what you heard in the Epistle Reading: “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” What was this plan? What was the mystery hidden and now revealed? That the LORD would become man, would dwell with His people, would offer Himself in sacrifice, and would conquer sin, death, and Satan through His resurrection to restore His fallen creation. Where is the benefit of that work to be found? It is found wherever the LORD’s Word that testifies about Jesus is heard.

But there are signs that accompany this. The LORD did say about His people: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but 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.” But these signs may not be the miraculous like the star seen by the Magi. Yet, the light that shines in the darkness is present now. It is found in the Church, which means that it is found among you. The signs include the acts that you now perform because you are the LORD’s redeemed people. That’s where His glory is seen in you.

This is why the Babe of Bethlehem would later say about His disciples: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Your living as followers of Jesus provides ways for others to see the LORD’s light shining in the darkness. Such living includes the signs of good works that get noticed. This can lead them to hear the testimony of the Messiah’s work and to receive the benefit of it. That is found in the LORD’s words that the Church proclaims, so that the Father in heaven can be praised for what He freely gave in His Son. When that is received, then all who are brought to the Messiah’s presence can worship Him.

So as we live as Jesus’ followers in another year, let us all remember how the LORD’s light shined in the darkness and overcame it. That knowledge has been given to us. Salvation has come to us through the One born King of the Jews, who died with that phrase pinned to His cross, and who now rules over death through His resurrection. We have received the benefits of His work, including the new life that we possess as Jesus’ disciples. We show our identity as the LORD’s people through our works. Even more importantly, we tell what has been done for us. By doing so, we point others to Jesus. For that is how Jesus continues to be revealed to the world, so that others may come and hear the testimony about Him, believe in what He has done, and worship Him for it.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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