Sermon preached on the feast of the Epiphany (transferred), Sunday, January 8, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.
Lectionary texts: Isaiah 60.1-6; Psalm 72.1-15; Ephesians 3.1-12; Matthew 2.1-12.
“Eureka!” The lightbulb has gone off over the head. Aha! Of course! How could I have been so blind? Duh! Eureka! I have found it!
Sometimes we don’t even know what we have gone looking for before we find the exact thing we truly needed all along. Like the man who goes fishing for the sweet meat of a few bluegills just to feed himself one meal, and then he hooks into the monster fish large enough to feed everyone in his home, sometimes we get more than we might have set off looking for.
These are some of the thoughts I have when I read Matthew chapter 2, verses 8-10. Several wise and learned men from the east have journeyed a long way because of a prophecy. There is something happening at the end of the journey in the direction of the star that illumines the dark night skies. What is this something? What will we find when we finally reach our journey’s end? Whatever this is at the end of our road, it is something that we must find. It is surely a treasure of great value. Their full attention has been seized by this beautiful light that has appeared before the eyes of all.
In Jerusalem these wise and scholarly men encounter Herod the Great, a real scoundrel of a man. He is a non-Jewish King in this region, and he has a laundry list of horrible things he has done in the past. Recently, he ordered the deaths of all the male children being born in the area so as to maintain his throne as illegitimate king over this place. Upon meeting Herod, the wise men tell him what they are looking for according to prophecy. They are looking for the one about whom it has been foretold that he would be a ruler and shepherd of Gods people in the Davidic spiritual and familial line. Herod has already gone on about the infanticide he used to protect his throne, and he’s also killed of scores of his own family to prevent them from ascending to the throne. There’s no doubt that when he asked to know where this child is to so that he may go and worship him, he’s really planning on snuffing out whatever he finds in that place so that he can continue on in power, unbothered by others’ claims, ruling as the tyrant he is.
So the Magi press on down the road, still following after that bright and beautiful star, their time spent in the darkness being shined upon by whatever this star means, by whatever the greater thing beneath it is. These men are tired, they are worn, they have been walking and riding for miles upon miles, and much of it at night when it isn’t particularly safe to go around. Getting to this place of the star is surely taking its toll on their bodies. Their feet are sore, covered with blisters. They don’t often have opportunity to stop and bathe when they find themselves in the midst of the dark and lonely parts of the journey where no one else is around, except maybe for those who would rob and maybe kill them for the things they have.
Yet, they are driven on further by the curiosity that has been building up within them throughout the whole trek. We must find this king and bow before him, and present him with our gifts. This is our mission, a mission we have been lead to follow after and accomplish, and we shall not relent.
Upon reaching their destination they saw that the star had stopped. This was the moment of discovery for these wearied travellers from the east. Their eyes would now behold him for whom they had come to see. And their hearts were overjoyed. The men rejoiced that they have now finally reached the end of the long and treacherous road journey that they have paid for in their bodies. And there he was, right inside the quaint little home, sitting with his mother, Mary. With Mary holding her son Jesus, and with Jesus clinging to his momma, the Magi bow down in humble submission and out of due reverence for the one of whom the prophecy foretold: “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.” Before their very eyes, within the same room, the promised one enrobed in human flesh, sits gently upon his mothers lap. He is so young, and so precious to his mother. The flesh of her own flesh, her little baby boy. His name is “he will deliver,” “he will save,” “he will rescue,” Yeshua, Joshua, Jesus. He will save his people from their sins.
Could this be? How could I have been so blind! Aha! Boy oh Boy! Eureka! I have found it!
Looking for a child who would be a shepherd and ruler for his people, they also found revealed before them God in the flesh, the one who will save, not through military might, but through himself and his sacrifice for the sins of all the people; for his blood family, the Jews, and for the others outside of Israel, the Gentiles, of which these men are. “I have found it, and didn’t know I was looking for all this!”
In their due reverence they brought to him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold, a symbol of light and royalty, fit for a king of his proper standing in Israel. Frankincense, a recognition that Jesus is a priest, and in this case we can say God himself, enfleshed for us and like us, used to offer up prayers to God as a sweet fragrance reminding the user of how sweet the prayers of the people are in the nostrils of God. And myrrh, the one which is most interesting.
This holy oil, the myrrh, is scented oil that is commonly used in the preparation of the dead prior to burial. It would help to hide the scent of death before the one on whom it is used could be buried.
See Mary, receiving this gift of myrrh for her little boy, Jesus. She accepts the gift, but with a deep question in her heart. Is my son going to die before me? What is going to happen? Why would they give such a gift? What deep pain and questioning must have gone through the Blessed Mary’s mind, questions that would be answered for her in 33 years when the purpose of Jesus, the God-Man wrapped in human flesh, were revealed in their final spectacularity.
He is the one who was prophesied, and about whom the Psalmist wrote, when he said:
72:1 Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.
72:2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.
72:3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
72:4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
72:5 May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
72:6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.
72:7 In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
72:10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.
72:11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.
72:12 For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.
72:13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.
72:14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.
Jesus is all that God has promised to us his creation, who has come to set us free. Have we found it? Have we discovered who Jesus really is? Not just some baby with a claim to an earthly throne, but the God in flesh who shall be a prophet, priest, and King. The one, and the only one, who when being discovered causes men and women from the depths of their hearts and souls to proclaim aloud, and with great joy, “Eureka! I have found it!”
We have gathered here today in this assembly not by accident, but because we were drawn by light. Something about this light just can’t be shaken off and ignored. It is too hard not to notice, and it’s almost as if, by some sort of providence—God’s providence, we could say—that we have been brought together on this day, in this place, to hear of a God who has been joined together with his human creation in the flesh. What a great and curious thing that a holy God would take on the weakness of the flesh of a little baby to reveal himself to all humankind.
But this is exactly what he has done. And his heart and flesh will be tested by Satan, by the pressing in of the pressures of life lived amongst sinful humanity, and by those who would seek to kill him. And this God-Man, this one whom we have sought, and whom we realize first loved us enough to come amongst us, will be handed off by his own kin to be killed on a torture device built by those not of his own people. At any time we could think he could call it all off and accomplish the redemption of the world by some other means—except that he wouldn’t, because that’s the price he was willing to pay to continue to bring all of us into his everlasting covenant of peace. This peace bought for us through the marring of his flesh, the spilling of his blood upon the ground, and the excruciatingly painful death he would die. Yes, he brought us peace through his death, and in rising he won for us who are called by his name, Christians, victory over evil, sin, and death. All of this will happen to the one to whom the Holy Spirit has lead us to in this place, on this day. We might have come looking for something else, but we have indeed encountered our Savior and our God.
Close: And the only reason any of us could have ever found him is because he caused himself to be found by taking on fragile human flesh, uniting us to himself, and leading us to true knowledge of him by the Holy Spirit whom he also sent according to his good promise. May we ever remember that what, or more properly who, we have found is worth getting to know better more and more every single day.
To him who revealed himself to us in the flesh, the bright and morning star who breaks through the darkness to light our path and give all people saving knowledge of the one true God, be the glory now and forever. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Eureka! We have found him! Amen.