Sermon for the Epiphany of Our Lord based on Matthew 2:1-12
Dear people to whom the Saviour’s birth has been revealed: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
That God became man was first revealed to shepherds in Israel and magi in the East. In other words, the Saviour’s birth was announced first to the lowly rejects of Jewish society and to heathen astrologers. Shepherds were outcasts and looked down upon. The magi were pagans who practiced divination, fortune telling, interpreting omens, studying dreams, astrology, and magic (cf. Dan. 2:2, 4:7). These are practices that God says are an abomination to Him (Dt. 18:10-11). Similar equivalents today would be the delinquents on our membership list and palm-reading psychics.
God chose to reveal the Saviour’s birth through angels and a star not to life-long faithful worshippers or to pious pastors, but to those who cared nothing for Him and to those who sought answers from the devil and his demons. God thus confounds those who think they are wise and those who think they are righteous.
Jesus was born for sinners, not for those who are righteous in their own sight. Jesus came for the thieves, adulterers, gossips, heretics, and horoscope readers. He came not to harden them in their sin, but to turn them from their sin and to give them forgiveness. The Gospel is to console the humble and despised, and to them Christ is revealed, as He was revealed to the shepherds and magi.
The magi are sometimes called wise men, but it was not their wisdom that led them to Jesus. They had been looking for answers in all the wrong places. There are no answers to be found in magic. Black arts are the devil’s work and he is the father of lies. No truth is to be found in such witchcraft and sorcery. There are no answers in the stars. There is no truth to be found in the skies.
When it is said that one who is born in this or that sign must become a gambler or an addict, and whoever is born under this or that star will become rich or wise, it is sheer madness. What fool looks to answers from the stars, and makes life decisions based on where the stars are in the sky on a particular day? Who seeks answers from the stars for love, money, success, and health? Only one who is blinded by lies and cannot see the truth. Such a one is in the very grasp of the devil himself because he does not seek good from God, but from fables and lies. Such are not wise men, but mad, frantic, and senseless men.
Yet, somehow, God’s Word had reached these magi in Persia, Babylon, Arabia, or from wherever they were. The Jews had been in exile in Babylon, and it is quite likely that those in the east learned God’s Word from those exiles, such as the prophet Daniel. Surely they had heard Balaam’s oracle of a star coming out of Jacob, and a scepter rising out of Israel (Nu. 24:17). They traveled far to find this king of the Jews, certainly because they understood that He was their king too. They bowed down and worshiped Him because they knew He was not just another child, not even just another king, but the King of kings.
The birth of this King was received in a much different way in Jerusalem. When Herod the king heard from the magi that they were seeking the newborn king of the Jews, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Why was all of Jerusalem troubled? Should they not have been excited and overjoyed that the long-promised Saviour for whom they were waiting was finally come? But as Saint John writes, He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him (John 1:11). He was not sought or acknowledged by His own people, but He was sought out by foreigners from far away with precious gifts in hand. The chief priests and scribes with Scriptures in hand did not acknowledge or worship the Saviour, but foreign sorcerers did.
Herod, of course, feared the loss of his kingdom. He was a foreigner himself and did not have the goodwill of the people. He also knew that the Jews were waiting for the Christ to deliver them from under Roman rule as Moses had delivered them from under Egyptian rule. If a new king had been born, Herod feared a rival for the throne and an insurrection from the Jews who did not want Herod as their king.
The people of Jerusalem were troubled because they knew what Herod was like. They feared bloodshed from this tyrant. They had also earlier revolted against the Romans which resulted in destruction, exile, enslavement, and death. They were troubled with how Herod would react to the news of the birth of a king of the Jews. Their fear was confirmed, when Herod, in trying to kill the infant Jesus, ordered all boys two years old and younger in Bethlehem and the surrounding region to be murdered.
Herod consulted Scripture in order to use it against God. He found out from Scripture that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem, and thus it was the little boys of Bethlehem he put to death. He did not submit himself to God’s Word as the magi did.
Christ came for sinners like the magi. We can be offended at the fact that Christ’s birth was revealed to such sinners, or we can humble ourselves and submit to God’s Word, realizing that we also are such sinners. That is to say, Christ came for sinners like us.
We do not rejoice in our sin. We mourn and regret our sin and the harm we’ve done to ourselves and one another. We do rejoice that Christ came to save us from our sin. We are the sinners Christ came to save.
God’s Word has revealed to us who this infant was that Herod tried in vain to kill. He did come for the purpose of dying, but it would be His way and at His appointed time. It would be only when He had fulfilled what He came to do before dying. It would be after He had fulfilled the Law of God for us; after He had taught and healed many; after He had finished the works of God the Father. And no one could take His life away from Him. He laid it down of His own accord (John 10:18). Out of His great love for us, He laid down His life for sinful rebels like us, so that we have the promise of eternal life.
To keep us in the faith until we die, Christ instituted the sacred meal of the Sacrament of the Altar. He invites to His altar those who have sought answers in the wrong places; those who are weary in their fight with sin; those who struggle; those who are weak and heavy laden. Christ promises you rest because with His body and blood, He gives you forgiveness. He gives you rest from your sins because He died for your sins and takes them from you.
Group yourself with the magi, with delinquent members, and with palm-reading psychics as sinners whom Christ died to save. Repent and rejoice that God has revealed His promised Christ to you. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.