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Sermon - 12/31/17
2018.01.02 22:47:49

EPIPHANY-observed/ABC (2018): Isa. 60:1-6; Eph. 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

 

Light,            When you Read this [in the congregation], you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed…by the Spirit.  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…  Of this gospel I was made a minister… to bring to light…that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.  (vv. 4-6, 7a, 9a, 10). 

 

Christmas and The Feast of The Epiphany are of a piece. Christmastide comprises Advent’s preparation for the birth of Immanuel, twelve celebratory days and a thirteenth day that concludes the season, The Epiphany of Our Lord, sometimes called “Gentile Christmas”.   

 

By recognizing The Epiphany as recapitulating the message of Christ come for all men, we reflect on the gracious Light of God having entered our darkened world that all men might know the mystery kept secret for long ages (Rom. 16:25). St. Paul was given to preach the good news that “in the beginning” all men are objects of God’s salvific love. 

 

Still there is a problem for both Jew and Gentile. Israel, from their adoption at Sinai possessed, if muted by types, God’s Torah light.  The mystery was veiled, not revealed fully face-to-face, but as it were, the Glory was exposed to men in passing view (Ex. 33:23). 

 

But with the birth of Christ the veil over Scripture’s light was pulled aside. The Babe of Christmas is the mystery of God coming to men.  Christ’s infant glory and coming reign in his crucified flesh is nevertheless revealed only to eyes of faith.  The Babe, the flesh of God and of Mary, comes not only as Savior, but Teacher and Revealer of God, new Torah to enlighten Moses’ veiled word. 

 

Thus, the revelation of Christ out of heaven is “to the Jew first” (Rom. 1:16) from whence Jesus is delivered in the world.  Apart from Emmanuel’s appearing to the Jews, unprepared Gentiles would otherwise have been blinded at the sudden coming of heaven’s Light.  Jesus has come in place of Israel, God’s Suffering Servant who in humility brings the Light to Gentiles (Isaiah 49:6).  God is nothing if not considerate of man’s frailty.

 

Thus Christmas is of the Jews, prophetically anticipated in Advent by the witness of JB to Jesus come as Son of God, Christ of God, and Lamb of God. On the other hand, The Epiphany belongs to a Gentile proclamation of good news for the Jew, that Jesus is their true King (Mt. 27:37).  The Magi’s inquiry of the newborn king’s whereabouts thus provides a fitting bracket to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as son of David (Mk. 11:10), Read the 1st Sunday in Advent. 

 

At the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel the Magi proclaim the Babe’s kingship, insinuating Jesus’ universal salvation made fully clear when the risen Lord charged his church to, “make disciples of all nations” (28:19a).  By Baptism we put on Christ crucified and risen who transcends all ethnic and social status (Gal. 3:28). 

 

If the advent of Jesus was revealed to Gentiles by indirect starlight, he came to Israel “as a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 16:15), a divine break-in on the outskirts of Jerusalem, stronghold of secular and religious resisters to God’s Anointed (Ps. 2:2, 3).  Shepherds in midnight darkness were suddenly confronted with the Light of the Babe reflected from his angelic army.  It was an invasion, the opening salvo of heaven’s “shock and awe” campaign in Israel. 

 

The Light of heaven emanated from the angelic word, to enlighten the shepherds. Immediately the Babe’s angels speak to them words of peace, “Fear not” (Luke 2:10) and directing attention to their Captain, the Babe, God’s mild and gentle gift of love for men lost and mired in a beastly world. 

 

Jew and Gentile share this in common: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).  Sinful man prefers the darkness we know to the gracious Light we do not know coming from outside us.  Ignorance makes men afraid.  

 

Gentiles mistrust God’s word from Jews who mistake the law of circumcision for their own private gospel; and Jews reject the long hidden revelation of grace in Christ crucified, failing to receive the mystery and content of their own Scriptures. How sad! 

 

The shepherds would have only marginally comprehended the midnight angelic revelation; still they were impelled to seek the Light more fully, to behold the Babe and proclaim the words of peace for men who will believe.

 

Mary, as with the church today, “treasured [the shepherd’s words] and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).  From Jesus’ Nativity to his cross and resurrection, the church is on a journey that treasures and ponders the shepherd’s good news to men upon whom God’s favor rests (v. 14).

 

On The Epiphany we hear the account of the Magi’s visitation as they were drawn to the Babe by the light of his star. The Magi were not “wise men” as popularly conceived and often mistranslated; just the opposite, they were foolish pagans steeped in superstitious devilry. 

 

Still by the grace of heaven’s starlight the Magi were directed by God’s word, bequeathed from the prophet Daniel in the Babylonian captivity under king Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 2:48). These Gentile long riders followed the starlight to Jerusalem, and there again received from the Jewish scribes Scripture’s revelation of the king’s birthplace, and then onto the Light source in Bethlehem, the Babe and the mystery hidden for long ages, which is to say, “in the beginning”. 

 

Today we pray for those who deny or avert their eyes and ears from the Light, refusing grace and Truth in Christ, the content of all OT Scripture; and the genesis of the NT church’s existence in the body and blood of her crucified and risen Lord. In this sacramental connection the Christian Church is attached to her Jewish vine, Jesus, God’s new Israel and we in him by Baptism. 

 

The significance of The Epiphany’s Gentile proclamation is, that coming into the world for all men, the Babe’s Jewish lineage insufficiently identifies him other than as the prophetic fulfillment of OT Scripture. Jesus is not born into the world merely as “King of the Jews”; rather he comes, “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16).  

 

We, Jew or Gentile, like the shepherds and the Magi are on a journey in the Light on the Way, which is to say, the Christian is constantly in the word the Psalmist calls, “a lamp unto [our] feet” (119:105).  Enlightenment begins in faith that receives the church’s Baptism and promised HS by which God’s word is revealed Truth in the flesh of Christ.

 

There is a horrific contrast to the Christian joy of receiving the Babe’s light in apposition to those preferring the darkness. Antipathy toward the Light is inexplicable and yet today’s Gospel account expresses it, “When Herod the king (a Gentile) heard [of the birth], he was shaken and all Jerusalem (“the Jews”) with him…” (Mt. 2:3).

 

Within days Herod’s rage toward the newborn king, revealed to him by the unwise and naïve Magi, slaughtered Bethlehem’s Holy Innocents. Later when JB witnessed to Jesus following his anointing in the HS, Jerusalem’s priests and elders refused to believe the testimony of Israel’s last and greatest OT prophet.

 

Still for men upon whom God’s favor rests, the revelation of the Babe with us in humility gives us to know the mystery hidden through long ages, the character of God. The mystery, the man Jesus, pre-incarnate Torah of God, for love of us was put to death that no one, Jew or Gentile, be condemned by the law, but through Baptism into his wounds enter eternal life by the gift of the Spirit. 

 

By Baptism we participate in Christ’s death, captive to God’s word. Unlike old Torah, written on stone tablets, in the new Torah of the crucified and risen Christ, circumcision does not separate one man or another from God.  All Baptized are by faith inwardly circumcised of the flesh’s sin nature and so possess a heart that treasures and daily ponders God’s word in Spirit and Truth. 

 

The Jewish heart of Jesus was circumcised by a Gentile spear in an Isaac like binding on the cross’ wood altar; and so by faith we become Abraham’s seed accounted righteous in Christ.

 

By grace the Church receives her new Torah Bread, and a new commandment to partake of his Eucharistic love that is “Bread of angels” (Ps. 78:25). 

 

The amazing thing of our on-going participation in word and Sacrament is that the church preaches the formerly hidden mystery not only to men for their peace with God in forgiveness, faith, and Life in the Spirit; but she is also the proclaimer of Christ’s victorious reign by his wounds over all “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10).  Amen.

 

pem.   

 




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