120705 Midweek Advent 2
Sermon: Advent 2 on Quempas, stanza 2
Genesis 49:8 (NIV): “Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you.
9 You are a lion’s cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.
11 He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.”
If you do an Internet search for “the lion of Judah,” you will find some very interesting uses of the term. “The lion of Judah” is used to name the most amazing array of think tanks, commercial enterprises, Web sites, books, conspiracy theories, and cults of every stripe, including Rastafarian, Jewish, and Christian cults. Shockingly, my Internet search turned up few references to the Christ born in Bethlehem who was worshiped by the sages. What the Internet misses, the Quempas Carol speaks of so simply and beautifully.
He whom sages, westward faring,
Myrrh and gold and incense bearing,
Humbly worshiped, off’rings sharing,
Judah’s lion reigns this morn!
God’s own Son is born a child;
God the Father is reconciled!
The sages of which the Quempas speaks are our Wise Men or Magi, as Matthew calls them. Whether there were three or five or ten, we don’t know. Scripture doesn’t tell us. We just presume, and probably wrongly, that the presence of three gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh—requires three gift givers. The sages and their gifts are important not in themselves. The Wise Men disappear from the Bible as swiftly and dramatically as they appear, as though the fear of Herod’s retribution chased them eastward faring, irretrievably out of the land and completely out of the picture. These foreign dignitaries are ignored in Luke, the Gospel presumably written for foreigners, Gentiles.
The Wise Men came not for themselves as thrill seekers or vacationers. These sages traveled to see the King, Judah’s lion. And it is Judah’s lion that the story is for. They carried the threefold gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh which were the richest gifts available: the gold of Sheba (Psalm 72:15) and the aromatic resins of Arabia, frankincense and myrrh—gifts fit for a king. They came to acknowledge the King, Judah’s lion.
They must have known knew the promise of Genesis: “You are a lion’s cub, O Judah. . . . The scepter will not depart from Judah” (Genesis 49:9–10 NIV). They must have been aware that the eternal throne and kingdom would reside in the hands of Judah’s King. Perhaps they looked and prayed longingly for a kingdom of perfect peace and prosperity, and longed for Eden’s promise to be brought to its full fruition.
The sages must have known and hoped for all this. Why else would they so eagerly follow the star sent by God to guide them to the King. But somewhere along the road, the star disappeared from their view. It was only natural that, looking for a great universal king, such a king would be born in the capital city, Jerusalem. That’s only reasonable, don’t you think? So that’s where they went, straight to Herod’s palace.
But there all they find is a cranky Herod, mentally unstable and attached to power. The promising search for the lion of Judah suddenly hits a dead end. And as for Herod’s children, who were potential potentates—if they survived, they could be the potential replacement of the old scoundrel king. Caesar Augustus even quipped, “I would rather be one of Herod’s swine than one of Herod’s sons.” In his lifetime, Herod had slaughtered more sons than swine.
Herod, being obviously angered by the news of a newborn king in Judah, hurriedly consulted the priests—who informed him from the prophet Micah, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2 NIV). But Herod wasn’t about to tell the sages what he knew. “There is no king here, gentlemen,” said Herod. “There is no king but me. But if you happen to find one, please let me know about it. I, too, may want to—(how did you gentlemen put it?)—worship him.”
Now that their own wisdom had failed them, where should they turn? Ahhh, just then the star reappears. Let me pose a thought for you at this point. Do we not rely of our human reason for answers to questions about directions for life? Consider that God was still in control and using these sages to fulfill His purposes by letting them use their own reason to find the newborn king. Consider that God’s Word had prophesied the demise of the innocents in Bethlehem. Consider that God would use the evil intentions of a murderous man to fulfill His word. It wasn’t the first time in history that such use of evil by God had occurred. Consider how He directs Satan himself to His faithful servant, Job. Consider also how He used heathen kings to bring about the prophesied destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. But understand God’s wisdom in all things. Understand how His discipline serves the greater good of His people. Yes, the sages were misled by their own reason, but now the star twinkled over Bethlehem, where they will find the King, the Lion of Judah. The true heaven-sent royalty will not be found in the principal city, Jerusalem. None of the trappings of royalty, whether modern or ancient, will lead to Judah’s whelp.
But, the star of God’s guidance leads to a young mother and her child. Could this really be Judah’s lion? I mean, there was no celebrations, no sign of the scepter that would never leave his grip. Bethlehem was certainly not the land of milk and honey. Luther once quipped that in the streets of Bethlehem, children were more excited about the birth of a puppy (Luther) than about the birth of this child. So goes the world even today. The seemingly wise unbelief always looks for all the wrong things and looses sight of God’s signs. Notice how the confidence of faith resides with the humility and lowliness of the unexpected trappings of Judah’s Lion lying in a manger.
How odd that the place where priests and temple and glorious worship and fine palaces and all the trappings of power, did not produce or reveal the King. But, there in Bethlehem, with only the Word of God as their guide, they bowed down to worship the one from whom the scepter could never depart.
Like the sages from afar, the believer always trusts what God has said rather than what his own eyes and heart reveals. Eyes can be deceived and the heart misguided in wickedness. But God’s Word will never lie or deceive. In this lion of Judah there is the victorious celebration at which all the people of God sing praises because the cup of salvation is full to overflowing. Shiloh has come with peace in his wings, with vines groaning with ripe fruit, with an abundance of milk and honey. In this kingdom, there will be no weakness, sickness, sorrow, deprivation, or death. Oh that we had the faith to believe this! The wisdom to not be offended by the weakness of his coming among us in the simplicity of Word and Sacrament!
The point is this: Only faith can sing what the Quempas says, “Judah’s lion reigns this morn! God’s own Son is born a child, is born a child!” Amen.