This is the Sermon for Epiphany Sunday -- January 6, 2014 at

Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church
Laurie, Missouri

Matthew 2:1-12

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.” And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born. And they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet, ‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER, WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’”

Then Herod secretly called the magi, and ascertained from them the time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go and make careful search for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, that I too may come and worship Him.” And having heard the king, they went their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way.

Sermon for Epiphany                                                                                                                                                                                                     1/06/14

A Journey of Faith

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The story of the visit of the three wise men is such a familiar story, so warm and wonderful. It has been part of the celebration of Epiphany from the very beginning. What is sad is that although we know the story, we do not know the reality. We have three wise men in our nativities, but the Bible doesn’t give us a number. They were called “magi” from which we get the words “magic” and “magician” but we have no real concept, generally of what they were really. We are amazed by their gifts and amused by their deception of wicked old Herod, but we don't seem to understand what we see in the coming of the Magi is, as we name it in our sermon theme, A Journey of Faith.

Epiphany was the first and only holiday of the early Christian Church, other than Easter. It was the first Christmas, and the Baptism of Jesus, and the visit by the Magi, and His first miracle, and much more. The word “Epiphany” means “manifestation” or “shining forth.” The season of Epiphany in the church today deals with the first revealing of Jesus in His glory in the world, and still looks at His circumcision, His Baptism, and the visit of the Magi. In Epiphany we celebrate the fulfillment of “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us.” This year we want to focus on the visit of the magi.

We three kings of orient are, is the first line of the famous hymn, but we don't know the number of the kings, we only know the number of the gifts which are named in Scripture. Three gifts are mentioned. They could have come from just two men, or an entire horde of men.

The “kings” were not kings. They were scholars, Magi, men whose life’s work was learning the arcane mysteries of the world. It was still possible, back then, for a single man to know everything that was known by men. These Magi were men who specialized in knowing. They may have come from royalty, and then maybe not. We just don't know. We know that they came from the east, somewhere. We know that they followed a star. They appear to have known the Jewish Scriptures at least in part. They must have known Numbers 24:17, "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, And a scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth."

We can guess that they knew about the prophecy, for when they saw the new star in the constellation of Judah, what we now call Leo the lion, they interpreted it to mean the birth of a king, even the Messiah, perhaps. It seems they might have known the prophecy of Daniel 9 about the seventy weeks and then the Messiah. This prophecy was known during the time in Babylon, so these wise men were likely scholars of Babylon who had copies of the Jewish Scriptures from the time of the captivity of Israel under Nebuchadnezzar.

We can be sure that they understood Jesus was to be more than a king, but also the Messiah, by the gifts they brought. They brought gold, riches, fit for a king. They brought Frankincense, an incense used in worship. And they brought Myrrh, an embalming spice. The must have expected a king, and a God, and someone who would die as part of His mission. They came prepared to find Jesus, prepared to give Him gifts, rare and precious gifts which carried a message of prophecy and understanding, and, from the Magi, faith.

They journeyed hundreds of miles in faith. They did not know what they would find. They did not know where. They assumed that the Jews would be looking eagerly for this one proclaimed by the constellations and by a new star. They expected Him in the palace, but they did not find Him there.

They must have been confused by Herod's ignorance. But they did not say so. They must have been puzzled by this great king being found in the humble company of a poor carpenter and his wife. If they were, they did not mention that either. They had been led by faith in what God's Word had spoken, and they let nothing stand in their way. When they found the child, they worshipped, they expressed their faith with their gifts, and they left rejoicing, but cautious because an angel had warned them in a vision of the treachery of Herod.

What did the wise men have that we do not? Nothing. They had the Word of God in the Old Testament. They were not Jews, but they understood. Their understanding of the prophecies puts the lie to those who suggest that no one really knew, that Jesus was unexpected and unexpectable. All they needed was the Word of God.

The Magi were not any different from us, nor did they have anything we do not. They knew the Word of God, and by knowing it, they believed. When they saw the sign, they followed the sign. They did not let distance stop them. They did not let time stand in their way. They did not let the unbelief and hostility of Herod slow them. Nor did they let the poverty and humility of Jesus' surroundings confuse them. They read the Word, they followed the Word, they believed the Word. And, as a result, they met the Savior. And they were Gentiles. In fact, Epiphany was long known as the Christmas of the Gentiles.

Theirs was a journey of faith. They read it in God's Word and believed and so acted on their faith. Like the Magi, we are on a journey of faith. All that we know about Jesus, all that we believe about salvation, we have learned from the Word of God. We believe by the same power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God as did the Magi of old. We, too, are on a journey of faith.

We also must live on the basis of what the Word says and what we believe. They traveled for hundreds of miles. They brought gifts, rare and precious. They worshiped and rejoiced. Can we do any less?

We must travel in our world by faith. We have been forgiven. We have the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ and His life and death and resurrection. We must live as those who have passed beyond the things of this world – particularly the evil things. We cannot let the Herods of our day keep us from worshiping the Christ. Nor can we let them deceive us and destroy our Lord's work in this world.

We need to confess Christ, as the Magi did, but not in the way they did. We must confess Him by our words and our deeds. But we can learn from them. They confessed by their gifts – and we can confess Christ by what we will give to Him and for Him, and by what we are unwilling to withhold from our Lord.

They confessed by coming to see and to worship. We can also confess by coming to worship, and not allowing anything to take precedence over that. We confess Christ by going as far as we need to in order to find Him proclaimed clearly and honestly from the Word. We confess Him by coming to receive Him in this Holy Sacrament which lies on the altar before us tonight.

We can celebrate with the Wise Men of old what God has revealed so clearly in His Word, the Messiah King who would -- and has died for us. We can rejoice with them in “Immanuel”, God come among us as a man, in human form, for our redemption. We can celebrate more because we have witnessed the cross and the empty tomb, and we know what they each mean for us – both the cross which reminds us of the price paid for us, and of the cross Christ would have each of us take up to follow Him, and the empty tomb which reminds us that we, too, shall rise from the dead unto everlasting life because of Jesus Christ.

Let us celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. Let us join the Magi of old in the journey of faith to see Him who is born King of the Jews, and Savior of us all.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)

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