09 January 2008
Homily - Epiphany of Our Lord - Midweek DS
At our Wednesday evening Divine Service tonight, we will celebrate the Epiphany again (yes, stretching the "liturgical girdle" just a bit, but, hey, Epiphany is well worth the repetition for folks who may not have been able to make it on Sunday :-). This homily actually comes from last year's Epiphany Divine Service, on 6 January, but here it is with a little spit and polish for this evening.
O Holy Light
Tonight we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord. Centuries ago, Epiphany used to be bigger than Christmas. It used to be more like Easter. In fact, for churches in the East, places like Russia, Greece, and the Middle East, Epiphany is Christmas. The word “Epiphany” means “revealing.” On Christmas we celebrate Jesus being born in the flesh of the pure Virgin Mary. On Epiphany we celebrate Jesus revealing Himself, making Himself known, as the flesh and blood Savior of the whole world. If Christmas is about the “O Holy Night” when Christ was born, Epiphany is about the “O Holy Light” when Jesus, the bright Morning Star, reveals Himself to the world.
And notice how our Gospel reading is chuck full of night and light, of dark and day. First, we are told that wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” We need to remember that this happened after Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The wise men were not there the day when Christ was born. Instead, they were in the east. They saw the star at the time of Jesus’ birth. Then they set out to travel to Jerusalem. And why go to Jerusalem? Well, it seems to make sense. Aren’t kings born in large, luxurious palaces? Don’t rulers live in the capitol cities? But the stargazing magi were a bit mistaken. They saw the star in the east. That got them headed in the right direction, but then their own thinking, their own wishing, their own assuming got in the way. Their own dark notions eclipsed the star’s holy light.
So the magi asked King Herod where the King-to-be might be. Probably not the wisest thing to do! A bit like asking the current president if you can talk to the next president! King Herod—who was disturbed in more ways that one—inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. You see, dark, disturbed King Herod unwittingly helped the wise men to see the light once again. The preachers told Herod and the wise men, “The Savior is supposed to be born in Bethlehem of Judea.” Not in the nation’s capitol, but in a little, back-water bedroom town. And what was the holy light that told this to the wise men? The Word of God from the prophet Micah. The light of God’s Word had to dispel the darkness of the wise men’s personal opinions about Jesus.
But as the light dawns on the wise men, Herod’s night only gets darker. In this great story of Jesus boldly revealing Himself, King Herod wants to deal in secrets and undercover operations. “Psst! Go and search diligently for the child.” As if the wise men would do something else, now that they knew where to look? “And when you have found him, bring me word.” “But why, King Herod?” “That I too may come and worship him.” Now, is that the kind of thing you want to keep secret—worshiping the King of the Jews, the Savior of the nations? Only if you live in darkness! Only if your darkness is hiding something you don’t want the wise men or King Jesus to see!
After the wise men listened to the dark, disturbed king, they proceeded on their journey to the King of holy light. Now that they had heard God’s Word and promise, they also had the star leading them once again. How marvelous! God’s Word—preached, read, sung, poured over you, spoken to you, and put in your mouth—that is the true guiding star. Notice that the wise men did not find the house where Mary and Little Jesus were on their own. No, the star led them there. And what happened next? When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. O holy Light! The star’s light led them to the Light of the world, the Light made flesh to dwell among us. Once in His bright, glorious presence, the wise men fell down in humility and worshiped. They saw His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
What does all this mean for us? The first thing is this: the wise men give us a good picture of ourselves. They saw the star in the east, and so they set out to follow it. But they were a bit confused about the light. God opens our eyes with the light of His gracious forgiveness, life, and salvation. Then we set out to follow it. But we often get confused about the light. We think it’s supposed to lead us to the large, luxurious, capitol city glories of Jerusalem. We want our “religion” to take away life’s struggles or burdens or confusions. When we hear the Gospel message, we want it to be a means to success, or some kind of easier, better living. We have our own personal, private ideas and opinions of Jesus—who He is, what He should do for us. In other words, we often want Jesus and His Gospel to be more our earthly treasure than our heavenly treasure.
Here’s a second thing this Epiphany story means for us. Dark, disturbed King Herod also gives us a picture of ourselves. It disturbed Herod that the wise men were looking for a king other than him. He was going to be replaced?! Nobody likes being replaced. But when Jesus comes to rescue you from your dark, disturbed sinful state, someone gets replaced. That old, dark, Herod-like sinner in you gets dethroned and replaced. You see, we all want to think of ourselves as king or queen. So much of our life revolves around “me, myself, and I.” We want all the people around us to bow to our leading and guiding, to our wishing and desiring. And this dark royalty can sound so religious and devout: “Of course I want to worship Him too.” But ulterior motives abound! Herod wanted to preserve his dark reign by killing Baby King Jesus. We want to preserve our selfish reigns by making Jesus fit our moulds. But that way He’s not the Savior; that way He’s only our palace slave. Each of us is born with this dark royalty. But being dark kings and queens will only lead us to eternity with the prince of darkness, Satan. And his destiny is hell, separated from God forever.
The wise men had their personal opinions of Jesus and where He should be. And so do we. Herod did not want to be replaced. Neither does our sinful self. But, you see, the personal opinions don’t amount to anything. They lead us on a goose chase that ends up in wrong places as we search for the Christ. The sinful self tries to replace Jesus instead of letting itself be replaced. It’s a cursed darkness. So, yes, we truly need the holy light of God’s Word who is Jesus.
Epiphany is about Jesus revealing Himself and where we can find Him. And Jesus reveals Himself in His grace and mercy. Once the wise men heard the Word of God telling them where the Christ would be, then they held fast. Well, God is equally gracious with us. He likes to reveal Himself to us—not in grand, majestic, ecstatic ways, but in humble, Bethlehem, ordinary-house ways. Where does Jesus reveal Himself to you, to bless you and forgive you? In His house, the Church. Here we get to cling to His words. Here we get to adhere to the preaching of His Gospel, to His washing of Baptism, to His words of Absolution, and to His meal of life in the Holy Supper. With these “holy lights,” we see the Christ. With these divinely appointed “stars” guiding us, the journey in bright, heavenly forgiveness and life is clear. Because of Jesus—born of Mary, revealed to the wise men, crucified under Pontius Pilate, and risen the third day in bright glory—your sins are forgiven. God sees the Light that is Christ in you!
And we respond as the wise men did. We bow down and worship Him. See how the Light of Christ leads to corporate worship—not to every individual having their own private, little faith, their own private, little church. No, the wise men worshiped together. After seeing the holy Light of Christ, they wouldn’t miss out on bowing down for all the treasures in the world. In fact, they were glad to give their treasures to the Tiny-tot King—no, not to win His favor, but because they already had His favor. The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were sacrifices of thanksgiving. There’s no better way to thank little King Jesus for rescuing you from your dark self and dark sin than by bowing down and worshiping where He lives in His house! There’s no better way to enjoy the holy light of God’s mercy and life than by clinging to Jesus’ Gospel preached from His pulpit and the Sacraments given out at His altar!
Isaiah preached it well: “And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Is. 60:3). The holy light of Epiphany, the exceedingly great joy of Jesus and His mercy, is not to be stored away in a safe. By all means, bring the nations here to Jesus’ house to see His holy light of mercy. By all means, bring your family and your friends to see Jesus reveal Himself as their Savior from dark sin. It’s a dark world out there, but here in God’s house we receive the light of God’s Truth. So, let’s all say, “Come on in. Come, leave your darkness behind. Christ shines the light of His mercy on you.” Here you may worship and adore Him. Here you may receive His gifts.
May God grant us His grace to see His marvelous light in Christ. May He strengthen us in clinging to His Son and His ways of revealing His “O Holy Light.” Amen.