Matt. 2.1 thru 12 Sermon
Unity Through Christ’s Birth
It’s so nice to be with my brothers and sisters in Christ here at St. Mark.
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We celebrated the Epiphany of our Lord on January 6th and it is appropriate that we spend some time looking at this important festival time for the church. Usually Epiphany, in common parlance, means a new insight or revelation. But it technically means “appearing” or “appearance.” It is actually used frequently in the New Testament in reference to Christ’s return when he will appear again in judgment at the end of history. In the case of our gospel lesson epiphany refers to the appearance of the “Star of Bethlehem” in the east which led the Magi to the Christ child. But, for the purpose of the church, Epiphany is the revelation of Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the Messiah that the Israelites were awaiting.
Christ Revealed to the Magi-Foreigners
Through this revelation of who this Christ child was, the Magi came and “fell down and worshipped Him.”…Here are these foreigners coming from the east and they recognize this Messiah. They were an elite bunch to be sure. They were astronomers and were being led by this “star,” and they knew about this birth of “the King of the Jews.” Well, they clearly learned about this happening from someone and, as it turned out this source was quite accurate, this source knew what was going on. Let’s just say it was God since we don’t know how they knew this, although it is reasonable to assume that Daniel the star gazer and dream reader might have shared this knowledge while he was in the east in Babylon. These wise men had to have heard about this Savior and the signs that would signal His arrival from someone. And, if you remember from the Old Testament, Daniel did spend some time out east when he was captured by the Babylonians and lived in exile there for a while…
So, what about the Israelites? It is clear through scripture that He came for the Jews first…but not just the Jews. This Savior came for the Gentiles as well, and these Magi are representative of the Gentiles that would also recognize the Messiah. This is like a preview of the future. We have the wicked King Herod wanting to kill this baby Jesus and then the Magi who, because of prophesy and a star, come to worship this baby. This baby Jesus will split the world from this time on. There will be those that are opposed and those who believe.
In fact there is a manger scene in the Metropolitan Museum of Art each year that has the Holy family gathered around the baby Jesus like they are normally configured but this setting is unusual. They are not in a rustic stable in Bethlehem as normally depicted, but this scene has this humble birth taking place amid the fallen and ruined columns of a once-proud Roman Building. The theological claim of this manger scene is clear and it is the same as that of Matthew. This birth would shake the foundations of the world and announces the fall of the mighty.
Many will hate Jesus and they will crucify Him in the end because of it. This is the world that we live in today. We are surrounded today with examples of this division and strife brought on by this Child. During this past Christmas season there were arguments at the corporate level, and even within families, as to whether we can wish people a Merry Christmas! People are renaming Christmas trees…Holiday trees. They are renaming Christmas break…winter break. And…there was even a court case as to whether poinsettias could be allowed in city hall…because of who they represent!
Unity Amidst Disunity
In our gospel account of the Magi there is a unity amidst this disunity though. The Magi are now united with Joseph and Mary in their worship of Jesus. So this is the revelation that these Magi have. They recognize the revealed Christ. They come and worship and bring their gifts to this Messiah. These gifts, by the way, are all gifts that have to do with worship. The gold is what is used for the temple ware to worship God with. The frankincense is a type of incense that was used frequently in the temple to signify that the prayers would rise up to God. And the myrrh was used in the burial of a follower of Yahweh the Lord in the Jewish faith. So, these Magi knew what they were coming to do from the onset. They didn’t just fall down and worship as a spontaneous reaction but came to worship this revealed Messiah. This is what this Epiphany means to us. We are to worship Christ because of the revelation of Christ our redeemer. We too are united with the Magi, and anyone else that believes this is the Messiah. We are united around this Christ Child through our faith that He is our Lord and Savior. More than that, we are united through our Baptism. We have this common faith and we are brothers and sisters in Christ because we have all been baptized in the Lord.
Christ Revealed to All= Unity Through Scripture
Our Epiphany season celebrates all of the different ways Christ was revealed to His people through His word. The Magi saw the appearance of the star and came to Bethlehem to worship Him. In other Epiphany texts we see the Savior Jesus revealed to others through other means. This revelation is what is in common in all of the texts we look at throughout Epiphany. In Mark 1 we see John the Baptizer testifying to this One who is mightier than he that baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Then God Himself witnesses to who this Christ is, he says, “You are my Son, with whom I am well pleased.” In John we will read of the calling of Nathanael and how he became a follower through the word of Christ. The scriptures themselves testify to this Christ child’s identity. The Old Testament is filled with prophesy of the Messiah and yet there will be those that believe and those that do not.
We Are the Church Body United Around Christ Through Scripture
We, who are here today worshipping the Lord, are also amongst those that believe. We are united with the Magi. We are united with John the Baptist. We are united with all the prophets that testified to His coming and then we are also united with all of those that believed after He had come. This includes; Simeon, the prophet that worshipped the Christ child with the singing of the Nunc Dimittis in the temple, Anna, the prophetess who also acknowledged the Messiah in the temple and worshipped Him, and the Shepherds who were told of the Messiah through the singing of the Gloria in Excelsis by the angels. All of the people that worshipped Him at His birth and then those that followed Him throughout His ministry are united with us through our faith and worship of Jesus Christ. These are the followers of Jesus and even today we have this larger church that is filled with both Jew and Gentile. With all kinds of denominations that believe in this Christ as their Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ is where we find our unity. He is the one that brought these people together to worship Him then, and He is why we come together today!
I Am an Example
I, as a seminarian, am an example of this love for one another in the body of Christ. You are here in California and you have sent me out to the church at large. You have supported and prayed for us out of your Christian love for us and through this love we have traveled to St. Louis. Now I am being formed as a pastor by others that believe as you do. I am now in Cincinnati and the people there are followers of this same Christ, and they are a part of the body that has the gift of nurturing a vicar. They are serving Christ through their service to the church out in Cincinnati. The Seminary professors are serving Christ through their gift of educating, Christ Lutheran in Cincinnati is serving as a vicarage congregation, and you are serving Christ through your giving, prayer, and encouragement. Yet all of us are united around this same Savior…born in that manger over 2000 years ago. We all were united in our celebration of His birth and even now in our celebrating this Epiphany season.
Yet we have these differences. We don’t all worship Him in the same way, but this is alright as long as we keep in our heart that the “church” crosses denominational lines and that we are united around the same child that was born in Bethlehem all of those years ago. We are not in union on every doctrinal issue, but we are united in our faith in Christ…much like the way that Joseph and Mary were probably not in complete union with the Magi but had the revealed Messiah in common. With this also we need to remember that we are similarly united with those that sit next to us in the pew, or maybe a few rows away. These are fellow believers that have been baptized and therefore have been made heirs to the same inheritance. They have been adopted, along with us, into the same family.
For this reason we must always find a way to love one another because that is what this child grew up to tell us. That dominates His ministry and His message! To love one another is what it is all about. We come to this house to worship Him most surely, and in doing so we are to show His love to one another. This is because we are all bound together in the Spirit. He gifted us this Spirit to help us when we are in need of His help…For when we don’t have it in us to forgive our neighbor…Or when we can’t quite bring ourselves to reach out to a fellow believer that seems to be hurting. This is when we remember who we are and whose we are. Through this Christ child we are united as one people and through our baptism we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are born again into this family…even closer, as one body. Each with our own unique gifts, each with our own weaknesses yet all part of the same flesh and called to love one another. We are united through our baptism…with the body of Christ through the sacrament of the altar, and around the word of God.
Now, as God’s chosen people holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Amen.