January 5th, 2014
Grace and peace...
As we observe this Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord, what better time to have a missions emphasis? I understand there's a lot of support for foreign missions around here, as you pastor has already told me about some of the medical mercy work being done in Madagascar. Well, today I thank you for the invitation to come and share with you first of all the Word, and a little about my work in Singapore.
Epiphany – the Christmas of the Gentiles. Epiphany – the season of light, the word “epiphany” meaning “appearance” or “manifestation” or “revealing”. It is the “appearance of our Lord” or the “revealing of our Lord”. It is the third part of the larger Christmas season of the church – Advent, which anticipates his birth, Christmas proper, which marks it – and Epiphany, which unpacks the meaning and significance of the One born in Bethlehem.
And there is so much rich meaning in this text from Matthew alone. Bethlehem, for instance, which means “house of bread”. And it is here that the Bread of Life would make his appearance.
The star – a mystery – what was it? A comet? A supernova? An angel? Angels are symbolized as stars elsewhere in Scripture and here the star has the same function – as a messenger, leading people to Christ, the Word made flesh. Just as prophets and evangelists and pastors are “stars” and “angels” in the same way – leading you to, proclaiming to you the word of Christ, the good news of his salvation.
And then there's Herod. How God uses wicked men even in spite of themselves, as he works all things together for the good of those who love him. This king, and all earthly kings, must bow to the king of kings. Herod, who shed the blood of the Holy Innocents, but could not find Jesus. And Jesus would one day stand innocent and silent before another Herod on the day he was crucified for the sins of both Herods and for all wicked men, including you and me.
Wickedness and darkness go together. Light and life go together. For those of us born into sin and death, our old nature likes the darkness. Sin thrives in the darkness, where it thinks it can hide. Who wants the spotlight focused on his sins? Who wants his deep dark secrets dragged out into the light of day? Imagine if your worst offenses were read aloud here in church for all to hear? You did what? Gasp. Horror. No, we like our sins in the dark, where we can pretend they don't matter, and that no one will see. But God can see all. The perfect judge won't let us get away with it.
He could sentence us, for we are guilty. But instead he sends this babe. This innocent one. His own Son. And in this blessed child, the darkness is swallowed up in light, for he is indeed the Light of the World. This Light shines in the darkness and yet the darkness does not understand. This Light chases away the darkness, and puts to death all death lurking there. The Light of Christ brings life and immortality to light for all who trust in him, and so we are not lumped with wicked Herod but counted innocent in Christ.
And then of course, the wise men from the East. Not even necessarily just three of them, there may have been more! We only know the three gifts they brought. Probably not kings themselves, but more likely stargazers. How had they learned of this prophecy? Remember the Jews were captive in Babylon for 80 years. So perhaps they even knew their Old Testament. But no matter, what matters not is who they are and how they knew, but that they were called, and who they came to see. Just as they could never have found Jesus on their own, so are you and I lost on our own. I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel and enlightened me with his gifts....
His gifts... not gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Gifts of forgiveness and blessing. Gifts revealed and manifest in the Babe of Bethlehem and the Christ of the Cross. Gifts applied in the word spoken by heaven's highest angels and by Earth's lowliest preachers. Gifts for the Jews who waited millennia, and the Gentiles who sat in darkness all those years. Gifts more precious than gold, sweeter-smelling than frankincense, more valuable than myrrh. The blood of the lamb, holy and precious, shed for us all, to make us holy and precious.
In view of all of this, as a result of all of this, because of the gifts he gives so richly, we bow before him and bring ours in return. Paltry though they are, like the little drummer boy, even our gold pales in comparison. This is not an even swap, or quid-pro-quo. We are beggars made millionaires whose repayment isn't even a dime. But worship we must, and serve our neighbor we so desire. We have been so loved and served in Christ, how can we not love and serve as we are called?
One of the best ways we can serve our neighbor is by sharing the hope within us. By pointing like that guiding star to the manger and the cross. By doing what we can to further the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our world. And we can do it so many ways. We do it by our silent witness to the world – loving neighbors with no strings attached. Mercy shown to the lowly, for mercy has been shown to us. We do it by giving answer when asked the hope within us – “what is it that makes you tick?”, “ Why that's Jesus Christ, who saves me by grace.” And we love and serve our neighbor when we support the preaching of Christ here at home and to the ends of the earth.
Today, instead of wise men from the East, you have a simple pastor called to serve in the far east. I would bring you no other gift than that which I have received – the message of Christ crucified for sinners like you and me. It is the same message I am called to preach in Singapore – where the Christians are fewer and the need for Christ's gifts is great. A multi-ethnic city-state of 5.5 million souls, Singapore is another field ready for the Lord's harvest. As I have already begun to gather those who would hear, so we plan to establish a congregation there that will gather regularly to receive the gifts of Christ in Word and Washing and Meal. His appearance and manifestation will continue under these humble forms, just as it does here, week in and week out. And as it has throughout these latter days. And as it will until his Great Epiphany, his final appearance in glory on the last day.
As we enter the Epiphany season, let us join the wise men at Bethlehem, and receive the gift of Christ anew. As he is revealed to us, may his Spirit empower us to be faithful in all things, and to share the gifts and the Gift.