Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sermon - Advent Midweek 3 - Matthew 2:10-12

Midweek Advent 3 – December 16, 2009
Matthew 2:10-12
“Myrrh for the Prophet”

The wise men brought their gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. The Gold reminds us of Christ's kingly office – for he rules our hearts by the Gospel. The Frankincense connects to his priestly role – the one who offers up the pleasing aroma of prayer and sacrifice, even self-sacrifice, to God on our behalf.

Today we come to that last gift, myrrh. Like the other gifts, there's more to it than something expensive and nice to show how much we appreciate this important person. There are hints of meaning in these gifts which point to the identity of this child. We'll draw connections between the myrrh and Christ's final office of prophet.

Myrrh is, like frankincense, an aromatic substance made from dried tree sap. It, too, was used from ancient times, and was very valuable. Myrrh cost up to 5 times as much as frankincense, and was sometimes worth more than its weight in gold.

While it was, like frankincense, a common ingredient in incense and perfumes, we think of myrrh mostly in connection with burial rites. It was burned along with the body in Roman cremations, and used to embalm Jewish bodies in preparation for burial.

Another way to understand the significance of a word is in Scripture is to see where else it is mentioned. Should it surprise us to see myrrh reappearing in the New Testament account of Christ's passion?

When Jesus was crucified, the soldiers offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he would not drink it. This mixture of wine and myrrh was a mild anesthetic – a small gesture of mercy afforded to crucifixion victims – a little something to numb the pain. But Jesus wouldn't take any less than the suffering that was appointed for him. He would meet his fate head on, no holding back. He would suffer the full measure of God's punishment for sins – our sins.

And then myrrh is mentioned again, after Jesus dies. In John 19, Nicodemus brings a mixture of myrrh and aloe, a hundred pounds worth, to prepare Jesus' body for burial. Perhaps Jesus' Mother Mary, when she smelled the myrrh on that good Friday, recalled the visit of the men from the East, and their unusual gifts.

Remember the woman who poured perfume on Jesus' feet, and he said she did a “beautiful thing” because she anointed him for burial. He knew ahead of time how he would face death. Just as he had repeatedly predicted it to his apostles. But he wasn't the only one.

John the Baptist called it publicly – that Jesus was the “Lamb of God” , foreseeing his sacrifice. The prophets of old – they saw it too. Isaiah: “he was stricken, smitten, and afflicted... wounded for our iniquities”. The Psalms: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and “You will not abandon me to the grave”. In fact one of the most striking predictions the prophets made about the coming Messiah was that he would die for his people.

The word of the prophets, you see, pointed to the Word made Flesh. Jesus, the ultimate prophet. King of Kings, Priest of Priests, Prophet of Prophets. The ultimate messenger of God.

He is the messenger, and he is the content. The medium IS the message! The good news is all about Jesus Christ – who he is, what he does for sinners like you and me. There is no gospel apart from him. There's nothing worth knowing or hearing, if not for him.

Most people think of a prophet as one who tells the future. Strictly speaking, the prophet is just a messenger, who might happen to tell the future. But Jesus does show us what is to come. The one who not only predicts but brings hope to our future. His resurrection is prophetic in this way – it shows us our own future. He goes to the grave and is raised again, and so shall we. He lives with God forever, and so shall we. Death has no power over him, nor will it over us for eternity.

To be a prophet is to bring a message, and often to die at the hands of men who don't want to hear it. Isaiah, Jeremeiah, Habbakuk, even John the Baptist. All slain by wicked men without ears to hear God's word.

The myrrh of the wise men reminds us that this baby Jesus was born to be a prophet – and to die a prophet's death. His message from God would be rejected by many, but received by some. Those in power would put him to death, but his message could not be silenced anymore than death could hold him in the grave.

What do we do with the word of our prophet? Do we seek to silence and bury God's word? Especially those words which expose us for our sins? Do we make our sins smell better with a thin perfume of good works or rationalizations? Do we try to point to the meager trinkets we think are fit to lay before him?

Or do we daily drown the Old Adam in repentance by returning to our baptism? Do you have ears to hear the good news of the Prophet – the message of Jesus Christ for you? He who died your death and gives you his life?

Can you see in the manger, not only the holy infant, tender and mild, but also the prophet, the priest and the king worshiped by the wise men? The one who was born to die, and to give us HIS gifts – not of gold, frankincense and myrrh... but of forgiveness, new life, and salvation.

As you celebrate Christmas, with all the sparkling lights, and all the smells and sounds and warm fuzzy feelings, and even as you receive and give gifts, give thanks for the one who received gold, frankincense and myrrh, but who gives us so much more – even himself, his life. What child is this? This, this is Christ the Lord. Amen.

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