Grace Lutheran Church, Racine, WI
January 4th, 2015
Grace and peace to you...
Today we observe Epiphany, and read from Matthew's Gospel concerning the visit of the Wise Men from the East.
Perhaps a missionary emphasis is fitting here, not because before you is a wise guy recently returned from the far east, but because the Wise Men who visited the Christ child represent the inclusion of the nations in God's plan of salvation through Jesus. Thus, this is sometimes called the “Gentile Christmas”.
And while pop culture blends this event in with the events of the nativity in Bethlehem, we in the church recognize it as a separate event – perhaps occurring even when Jesus was 2 years old. You've probably seen the bumper sticker like I have, or maybe a Christmas greeting card or sign bearing the message, “Wise Men Still Seek Him”.
It's a nice sentiment, if only it were true. For the wise men of old couldn't take much credit for seeking him. And if you asked them, they might not claim to be so wise. They come asking a question because God had sent them a message, through a star. To truly understand the visit of the wise men, we must acknowledge that God brought them from their eastern contemplations to see the brighter visions streaming afar.
Wise men still seek him. You know it's not even true today, either. For first of all, who is truly wise? Apart from God, no one. We are fools, embroiled not in lofty and spiritual concerns, but in the day to day worries and troubles of life as a sinner, living in a sin-filled world. Sin is the ultimate foolishness, and you and I have bought in to it for the full ride. “In the day you eat of it you will die” “Sounds good to me!” said foolish Adam and Eve. And their children, even you and I, follow in their foolish footsteps.
Foolish sinners like you and me have no interest in seeking a Savior, let alone one that looks so unimpressive, clad in diapers, down and dirty in the feed trough. Just as foolish sinners have little regard for a bloody and suffering savior, dying on a cross, sweaty, humiliated, helpless and hopeless, mocked by all. There's your God! There's your savior! Can't even save himself! But the foolishness of God is far greater than the wisdom of the world. And the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of men. And the Savior God sends is far better than any would-be, self-saving sinner. Humble and lowly as he is, in birth, in life, in death. He's the only Savior we've got, and the only one we fools need.
And the wisdom of God is to call us to faith in Christ by the Gospel. The wisdom of God is that the Holy Spirit brings you to Christ, points you to Christ, buries you with Christ in baptism, and raises you with Christ from the dead. The wisdom of God is that you can't do it, you can't decide to have faith, or by your own reason or strength come to him. But He does the saving, and we are the pure recipients of his grace.
Something for nothing, foolish as it may sound.
Wise men still seek him? Wise men, by the standards of the world seek anything but Christ. But wise men who live only by the wisdom received from God? Now we're talking. We are wise unto salvation only when we look away from ourselves and to Christ, who has done it all. We are wise unto salvation when the Spirit brings us to repent, again and again, and to believe in Christ for forgiveness. We are wise unto salvation only when we become fools, fools for Christ, whose foolishness conquers all.
The Wise Men from the East came a long way to worship the infant king. You and I travel only a short way down the road. But when God brings us to himself through Christ, we all travel the infinite distance from death to life. We go from enemies of God to friends, even children.
The Wise Men had to contend with enemies of God, especially Herod. Weasely-wise Herod employed his worldly wisdom to lie and deceive, for his own wicked ends. He was an enemy of Christ, and of the Gospel, wanting no other king but himself.
And you and I must also contend with enemies of the Gospel. Perhaps our foes are not as cruel or slick as old Herod, but the ultimate enemy is the same, the Old Evil Foe who seeks to work us woe. He seeks to steal the Christ child from you, or you from your Savior. He seeks to be the only king, but to make you think you are on the throne instead of God. He lies and deceives, and would make you miserable any way he can, if God would only let him.
Just as the wise men could not have stood up to Herod on their own, but were rescued by the Lord's design, so too is the Lord our only refuge when Satan seeks to oppose us and the Gospel. We don't turn to dreams and visions, but instead to the word of God, and the promises of Christ himself.
And then the gifts. The Wise Men brought gifts to the Christ child. But this is not so much to buy his favor, or to bribe him for some benefit. They bring him gifts to honor him who is born King. It is a confession of their faith in the word they received concerning this child.
So too, with our gifts. We can bring nothing to Christ that isn't already his. We can give nothing to Christ that he needs or lacks. We can pay nothing to purchase his favor or mercy. Instead, we who receive all good things through him – we bring our gifts in grateful response. We bring our gifts to support the preaching of his word, the administration of his gifts, and the expansion of his kingdom of Grace. Not that he needs our gifts, any more than the Christ child needed gold, frankincense or myrrh. But we do it in joy and thanksgiving, to honor him who has first served us.
And our gifts also serve as a confession of our faith that this child who was born for us, this child who would grow to a man who died for us, and rose from the dead for us, and lives and reigns to all eternity for us – is our savior, even Christ the Lord.
The highest worship isn't to bring him gifts of gold, frankincense or myrrh. The highest worship isn't even to fall down before him. The highest worship of Christ is to believe his word concerning himself.
This day as we observe Epiphany, recall the wise men. Share in their wisdom and worship the Christ, only by the grace of God who has called us to such wisdom. So come from afar, bring your gifts, and rely on the only one who can rescue you from the evil foe. For his word is sure, and he will not fail to save.
In Christ our Lord, Amen.