Saturday, January 17, 2015

Troubled

I'm not sure why I didn't post the last two weeks' sermons, but here they are for your enjoyment.

Sermon on Matthew 2:1-12
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
January 4, 2015 (The Feast of the Epiphany)

These men didn’t show up in Judea by accident.  The Lord had led them there.  Exactly how He did that is something of a debate among Christian historians.  Some think they were simply pagan astrologers who saw a particular star in the heavens that corresponded to their own system of reading important events, and that, because God wanted them to show up, He made it so that their astrology happened to be right this one particular time.  Others, including myself, suspect that these men were students from the order of scholars in Babylon, the same order of wise men of whom the prophet Daniel had been the wisest during Judah’s exile in Babylon.  In this case, these men would have been believers in the coming Messiah on the basis of that portion of the Old Testament which had already been written at the time of the exile.

There are also many theories about the nature of the star they saw.  Virtually all modern depictions of the manger scene include a large, highly visible star in the sky over the stable where our Lord was born.  But because it was only these men from the east who noticed the event, I doubt it was nearly as far out of the ordinary as most of our modern Christmas artwork portrays it, but was rather something the average person would have dismissed as simply another star, but which only had meaning to those who spent their lives studying the movements of heavenly objects.  If that’s true, then what was it, exactly?  Was it a confluence of various planets?  Was it really a star God miraculously caused to shine in that time and place but which ordinarily wasn’t there?  And if so, was it a supernatural miracle or did He use the natural phenomenon we know as a supernova, where a star explodes and becomes more visible in telescopes, or even to the naked eye, than it previously would have been, before fading again?

The fact is, there is a huge amount of information we don’t know about the visit of these men from the east.  We don’t even know if some or all of them were kings, or how many of them there were, despite the popular idea of the “three kings,” one for each of the gifts they brought.  But their visit is significant not so much in how it came about, but in what it signifies about the Child they came to worship.  And yes, the text does say they came to “worship” the Child.  Whatever else they did or did not know about the prophecies of the coming Messiah, they knew that this Child was God in the flesh.  They knew that none other than the creator of heaven and earth was present before them, receiving their worship and adoration.

The contrast between these men and those who were in power among the Judeans of that time is obvious.  Last week we talked about the bloodthirsty dictator called Herod who slaughtered all the male babies under two years old in and around Bethlehem in a vain attempt to kill this supposed usurper of his throne.  The religious leaders were troubled, too.  Their own power over the people of Judea was also being challenged here.  Unlike Herod, they clearly knew Who they were dealing with.  Micah’s prophecy they quoted to Herod was clearly about the coming Messiah, the Seed of the Woman, the Suffering Servant, the Son whom the virgin would conceive, Immanuel, which means “God with us.”  These same religious leaders would hound Jesus during his whole ministry, eventually putting Him to death for being the One they, in fact, knew Him to be, namely God the Son.

We’d like to think we would have been among the wise men and not those in Jerusalem who were upset by the whole thing.  Or perhaps we would have been among the humble Old Testament believers who already lived in Judea, such as Mary and Joseph themselves, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and their son John, Simeon, Anna, and so on.  That’s where we’d put ourselves in the story if we had to imagine we were part of these events.

But it troubles us when the Scriptures remind us of God’s Law, doesn’t it?  It troubles us when we’re reminded that we haven’t been perfect.  And it’s not just that we haven’t been perfect.  It’s not just that we’ve done a few things wrong.  It’s troubling to us when we realize that even our best and most pious good works are stained by the corruption of selfishness and pride which stains everything we do.  It offends us when we are reminded that our relationship with our creator is not going along happily and swimmingly the way we’d like it to.  In this we aren’t so different from the religious leaders in Jerusalem.  For that matter, we’re not so different from Herod himself.  Anything that puts something other than ourselves on the throne of our hearts becomes an object of our wrath and hatred.  Anything that reminds us that there is Someone more important than ourselves who can call us to account is met with discomfort at best, and murderous hatred at worst.

But being the object of hatred and murder was why Jesus came here in the first place.  You heard me right, God came into His creation for the purpose of being hated and killed.  He wasn’t among those infants killed by Herod immediately following today’s Gospel, because it wasn’t His time, but the absorption of all of our hatred and rebellion against Him was why He was born.  The absorption of all the hatred of all mankind against Him was why He was born.  Which means that it is all mankind, not just the members of that nation God had originally chosen to be His ancestors and relatives, which had their hatred and violence against their creator taken away from them by His act of dying on the cross.  Of course, anybody can still reject this wonderful news, and many do to their eternal judgment, but the fact is it was the rebellion of the whole creation against its creator that died on Good Friday, and an entire new creation newly aligned with its creator’s design which rose again Easter Sunday.

What this means for us is that we are among those who have died with this old world and who have risen as citizens of the new heavens and the new earth.  We are the ones who belong to His heavenly court and share in His heavenly banquet.  Which means, ironically, that He is now the one who brings us the true treasures of eternal life.  Our stuff, or money and possessions and even our very bodies, become the gold of heaven which He dispenses freely in love toward Him and service toward our neighbor.  Our prayers become the incense which is pleasing to Him for the sake of Christ and which He answers in the way most beneficial to us and to our neighbors.  And our very graves (which, admittedly, now use embalming fluid rather than myrrh, but the point is the same) become the beds from which we will awake from sleep to live forever in His kingdom.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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