The Epiphany of Our Lord

Rev. Mark Buetow

St. Matthew 2:1-12

epiphany icon "The heavens declare the glory of God and the earth shows forth His handiwork." So the creation itself testifies to the glory of God in Jesus Christ and a star is employed to guide pagan magi to the infant Christ. That's the historical bit of Epiphany: Magi, Wise Men, Persian astrologers-whatever you want to call them-came at the sign of a special star, knowing that a king was born. But Epiphany isn't just that the magi came and the church put it on the calendar! Epiphany means something. The Epiphany Gospel teaches us once again that Christ was born for all people, shepherds and kings, for all sinners, for you and me. After all if pagan magi can receive Him, there's hope for you and I! And not only was He born for us but the Lord will never fail to bring us to His Son so that we have forgiveness of sins and salvation from sin, death, devil and hell. The Epiphany Gospel teaches us where we shall find Jesus and also teaches repentance for seeking Him anywhere other than the places He has promised to be.

Jesus said of the Holy Scriptures, "These are they which testify of me." And to the disciples after Easter he "showed them in Moses and all the Prophets the things concerning Himself." Recall our Gospel reading, dear Christians. Where does the star lead the Wise Men? Does it lead them straight to Jesus? It does not! Rather it leads them to the place where they may hear the Holy Scriptures. And it is the Holy Scriptures which tell the Wise Men where the Child is. Do not pass lightly over this point, brothers and sisters. It means this: There is no coming to Jesus apart from the preaching of the Holy Scriptures. Even the Lord who brought forth a miraculous star to guide them didn't guide them straight to Jesus. Even the Wise Men learn that to receive Jesus, we must hear the preaching of the Holy Scriptures. It is those Scriptures which sent the Magi to Bethlehem. It is those same Scriptures which send us to receive Jesus in His holy church, where He comes to us in the washing of water and the Word, in the absolution and preaching of the Scriptures, and in the Supper He instituted. The Lord comes to us nowhere else to be our Savior and to deliver the forgiveness of sins. And the Scriptures point us nowhere else to receive Him.

And there is our Epiphany repentance, because we by nature ignore the Scriptures and seek Jesus somewhere else than He has promised to be for our salvation. Notice something. Did Herod and the all Jerusalem know the Christ has been born? Did they understand that Israel's long-promised Savior had finally come? Absolutely! Did they hear and understand the Scriptures? Herod asked where the Christ was to be born. The chief priest and scribes all said with the certainty of the Scripture, "In Bethlehem." But why did they want to know? So that they could get rid of the Christ! Herod and "all Jerusalem" show us that to simply know the Scriptures is no guarantee of anything. Even the Devil knows the Bible inside and out! Herod and "all Jerusalem" did not have faith which trusted in the infant Christ for their salvation. They wanted their own righteousness. Their own power and authority. Themselves being the big deal. They had the Scriptures but they didn't want to have Jesus. And there's our repentance! How often that is our confession, that we "know all that stuff already" and therefore have no need of learning the Scriptures, growing in our Catechism and advancing in the faith beyond where we were when we were confirmed years ago. Who wouldn't love to follow some spectacular star zooming around the sky? But search the Scriptures? Hear and learn what God's Word has to say? Grow in your knowledge and understanding of God's Word? Forget all that! This, dear Christians, is the religion of the world and the bulk of most of so-called "Christianity" today. It's even most of what you hear in the good ol' Missouri Synod anymore: We find Jesus where we want to find Him. We look in our hearts or lives. Where we don't want to look is to where the simple words of Scripture point us: to His church, to the means of grace, to the ministry of the Gospel under the care of a pastor. Dear Christians, let us repent of despising God's Word and hear again the Holy Scriptures which point us to Jesus and the Gospel and Sacraments in which we receive Him.

"Arise, shine, your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!" Dear Christians, the Lord will never leave us in darkness. By the pure light of His Word, He "calls, gathers and enlightens us." As He did the magi, bringing them to the place where Jesus was. There they presented Him with their gifts: gold frankincense and myrrh. All gifts which confess who this Child was. Gold which surely helped Joseph and Mary escape. But it would be this Child's holy precious and blood and His innocent suffering and death-not gold or silver-by which sinners escape from their sins. He who was given gold as a Child spills His lifeblood on Calvary for the sins of the world. For the sins of the magi, for your sins and my sins. Incense which was used in worship and represents the prayers of the saints. Here in this Child and Him alone we can pray. Only in Christ do we have access to the Father. Only in Christ do we learn the Father's will which is not to destroy but save us, not to condemn but redeem us, not to punish us but to set us free in His Son. Myrrh. The spice of burial foreshadowing the death of this Jesus for sinners. So the Three Kings presented their gifts. And they did so not because they owed this Child, but because their gifts confessed that this Child was the King and their salvation. So we, dear Christians, also make offerings. We give our treasure, we come to church, not because God "expects" or "demands" such worship, but because such worship is the confession and testimony and exercise of our faith, that our only hope, our only salvation is the Child who grew up to be King on the cross.

"Nations will come to your light and the Gentiles the brightness of your rising." So speaks Isaiah the prophet, foretelling that the nations will come to see the Lord's light and glory. But where? Among God's people! For that is where Christ dwells. Anyone who sees the Lord's light and glory sees it only in His church, where Christ is found in His means of grace. The prophet's words teach us that we don't go looking for the Lord just anywhere, but where He has promised to be, and that is where the Scriptures point us: among God's people where the means of grace are. What ever happened to the Magi? The church has believed for a long time that it was St. Thomas the Apostle who made his way to lands of Persia and actually baptized those magi! Of course that history is not recorded in the Scriptures, but the fact that the church has believed it teaches us that not even magi are converted by simply showing up at Jesus' house, but through the preaching and baptizing that Jesus Himself commanded His church to do after His resurrection. Just so there is no salvation for us in trying to find Jesus' childhood house or going to Calvary and looking for bits of the cross. No, to be certain of our salvation, to receive forgiveness of our sins, we look no other place than the holy church in which Christ Himself dwells. The church is the house wherein Jesus lives and to which the Scriptures direct us and to which the stars of our pastors point us. There is your forgiveness, dear Christians: in the water of the font, in the words of your preacher and in the body and blood of the Christ in His Supper. Never despise His Word and never look anywhere else, but receive Him there for your salvation and comfort.

"In Christ we have boldness and access with confidence by His faith." By Christ's faith. St. Paul, who was called by God so that the Gentiles would hear the preaching of Christ and believe and be saved, testifies to the Ephesians that it is through the church that the Lord's mystery is made known, the mystery which is our salvation in Christ. What is Epiphany all about? It's about learning where Jesus is and knowing how we know where Jesus is. The Magi were led to the Holy Scriptures which told them where Jesus is. So you, dear Christians, have the Holy Scriptures, which direct you not to a house in Bethlehem, nor to a cross on hill, nor to your heart or the changes in your life or any place like that. No, the Scriptures the Holy Spirit has written through His apostles direct you here. To this house. To this font. To this altar. To your pastor. Here is where Christ is. Now worship Him, not as one who owes Him something, as if you could ever repay! Rather, worship Him by receiving Him, by grasping in faith those promises of the Gospel which declare your sins forgiven. The promise of your Baptism which says that as Jesus is the beloved Son of God, so are you His beloved child. The promise of His body and blood that He lives in you and you in Him and He will raise you up on the Last Day! Christ was in the house for the Wise Men to see. Now He is in this house, His church, for you and for your salvation. Happy Epiphany! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Created: January 6th, 2011