Sunday, January 6, 2019

"Epiphany of Grace" The Sermon for SUNDAY, January 6, 2019 - Epiphany of the Lord

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘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.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. (Matthew 2:1-12, NRSV)

All mighty God, we thank you for your word and the way that you in it revealed to us who you are and what you've done for us in Christ. Now as we open that word we pray that your spirit may be present, that all thoughts of worry or distraction may be removed and that the Spirit will allow us to hear your voice. And so, oh God, fill us with your spirit through the reading and proclamation of your word this day. We pray in Jesus name. Amen

"Epiphany of Grace"

Epiphany (/ɪˈpɪfəni/ i-PIF-ə-nee). The word Epiphany is from Koine Greek ἐπιφάνεια, epipháneia, meaning manifestation or appearance. It is derived from the verb φαίνειν, phainein, meaning "to appear or reveal." In classical Greek it was used of the appearance of dawn, of an enemy in war, but especially of a manifestation of a deity to a worshiper (a theophany). In the Septuagint the word is used of a manifestation of the God of Israel (2 Maccabees 15:27). In the New Testament the word is used in 2 Timothy 1:10 to refer either to the birth of Christ or to his appearance after his resurrection, and five times to refer to his Second Coming.

“What’s an epiphany?” you might ask. An epiphany is one of those moments in life when something profound is revealed to you. For example, when Albert Einstein conceived the mathematical equation, E=mc², that was, to him, an epiphany. Something new was revealed. The epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ was when Christ was revealed to man.

The Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Christian holiday that celebrates this revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. It is one of the oldest Christian holidays.

In our text today, we read about the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s the story of how God revealed himself to the world. In our sermon today, we read how God reveals his grace In His Word and In Our Lives.

This is a very familiar Bible story. In fact, it’s one that has been embellished quite a bit. For example, we all know that there were three wise men, right? Wrong. The Bible says nothing about the number of magi, just the kinds of gifts they brought. We also know that they were kings from the Orient, right? Wrong, again. All we know is that these men came from somewhere in the east, probably from Babylon or Persia (modern day Iraq & Iran). We need to be careful not to say more than the Bible does. After all, this is God’s epiphany, his revelation. Let’s allow him to speak. What God does tell us in his Word is that “magi from the east came to Jerusalem.” The word “magi” is an interesting word. The word literally means “wise man.” The term is also used to describe people who were astrologers, magicians, sorcerers, pagan priests, and involved with the occult.

When you think about it, these don’t sound like very “wise” men. They were involved in things that were not pleasing to God. So, the question is this: how did these foreigners know to look for the Savior? The answer: they had God’s Word. Remember, the term “magi” was a word used in ancient Babylon. We know that the Jews had long before been taken to Babylon in exile because of their idolatry against the Lord. Among those Jews was Daniel. We hear about Daniel in the Old Testament. What we know is that Daniel worked with other magi, or wise men, in Babylon and often helped them out. He was their friend. A faithful believer like Daniel would have definitely told his new friends in Babylon about the coming Savior. And so, years passed, but Daniel’s message remained. These particular magi had heard the good news concerning the King of the Jews.

Now, it’s obvious the Magi didn’t have all the facts. Their faith and understanding was weak and limited to say the least. In fact, where do we find them looking for answers? They turn to the stars. Some would say they were turning to their pagan beliefs concerning astrology. That may be true to a point. Yet, they looked to the sky because they were convinced a sign was there. The Magi believed the truth was in the stars.

Notice how God used a star to pull the Magi to see his glory revealed. The Lord was patient and gracious with these gentiles. He gave them a sign they could follow for the moment. In his own way, God used a special star to let these wise men know that a special king had been born. After all, this is the Lord of the universe in control of this situation. All the stars, planets, and galaxies serve his purpose. At creation, God decreed a star be set in the sky for these Magi. And in doing so, the Lord fulfilled his own promises spoken by Isaiah: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”

God led the Magi on to see his great epiphany. He led them straight to Jerusalem, the capital city. They went from street to street inquiring the birth of the new king. What must have puzzled the Magi is that everyone in Jerusalem seemed to be in the dark concerning Jesus’ birth. King Herod eventually catches the news and then some answers are found. Finally, the chief priests and scribes are summoned. They give quick answer to the Magi’s question: “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is was the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”

So, how did the Magi find Christ? The star didn’t provide all the answers. God’s Word did. These Magi left their homes seeking truth in a star. They were basing their travels on a bit of information that had been passed down to them. Theirs was a simple faith, established and solidified by God’s Word. God was patient with these men. He blessed them. His Word provided them with all the answers they needed.

The Lord graciously led the Magi to see the truth. He led them to his holy Word. And then he led them to see that Word fulfilled. God longs to lead us to his Word everyday, so that we can grow in our faith and understanding. The Word of God is an epiphany in itself. It reveals God’s grace to us. For, the prophets still speak today. They reveal God’s grace; telling us that all our sins were laid on Jesus; our punishment fell on him; because of Christ we are forgiven children of God. In fact, these are the very words that Jesus praises saying: “These are the Scriptures that testify about me.” (John 5:39)

God has revealed his grace to us, so that we might know him. What an epiphany this biblical account affords to our lives! Just stop and consider the blessing God’s revealed Word is in our lives! Without God’s Word, there is no guidance or comfort. And that’s a revelation we all can perceive. Have we ever tried to be Christians without regular reading of and reflection on the Bible? Have we ever tried to discern what difficult decisions we should make without praying for God’s help and guidance first? Do we ever try to carry our burdens around, handle things ourselves, attempting to solve our own problems and those of the world rather than giving them to God? Sure we do. The result is a miserable epiphany. We see that life is miserable and frustrating. Without the Bible we soon see that our trust is misplaced, our hope misguided, and all knowledge is misunderstood. God has given us his Word, however. He has revealed himself to us. We have a Savior! In him we find answers to questions, guidance through life, and hope for eternity.

It isn’t some vague notion or sign that reveals this truth to us. God’s Word reveals his grace to us. When God reveals his grace in our lives one of two things happens. We either act like Herod or we respond like the Magi. Herod was preoccupied with his own little world. He was minding his own business; doing his own thing. He wasn’t seeking the Messiah as the wise men were. It doesn’t appear that he’s given any thought to the Messiah until the Magi appear in the city.

Once it’s brought to his attention, Herod becomes enraged. This Messiah would be born the king of the Jews. The long awaited Messiah, who was suppose to make the country strong again, who was suppose to rid their land of these oppressive foreigners, the one everyone in Judea had been waiting for - promised by God -- was born to take Herod’s place. He didn’t like that too much. In fact he was quite troubled about it. Suddenly, he didn’t like God’s plan. How wise is Herod? The Messiah was going to be imposing on his life. The Messiah was going to take away his kingdom. This revelation had an impact on Herod. He refused to listen. Instead, he tried to suppress the message. He went on a mad killing spree ordering the death of all baby boys two years old and younger.

Just like King Herod, God’s grace impacts our lives. His grace forces us to deal with our own selfishness. His grace insists we address our own greedy ambitions. God’s grace does battle with our sinful hearts. He forces us to see that our “little kingdoms”. Deep down, we all want to be kings of our own lives. We all want the praise and adulation. We want royalty. And so we long to surround ourselves with the stuff we declare “royal necessities.” From the clothes we wear to the food we eat, we crave royalty. Everything has to be in the right place in our lives. We need the right labels, the right name brands, in order to feel accepted in our kingdoms. After all, this is our kingdom. And no one dare take it from us! Well, what happens when Christ comes and dares to be king in our lives? How do we react when he wants to be royalty? Our first reaction is to be like King Herod. We’re thrown into turmoil. We go on a rampage. “Another king? How can this be?” we ask. And so our bottom lips stick out as we pout, kick, and scream, “I’m King, and no one can take my throne away!”

Still, God keeps coming to us. Again and again, he reveals his grace. He shows us how he can dare be king in our lives. For, he replaces everything he takes away. He takes a loved one; he replaces that person. He takes wealth; he replaces it. He takes health; he replaces it. He replaces all he takes with himself and all that his kingdom has to offer – hope, life, and salvation. After all, the Lord doesn’t want your DVD player, your computer, or your clothes. He wants your heart. He wants to shine first in your life. And once he has your heart everything else pales in comparison.

That was the Magi’s epiphany. True, they weren’t biblical scholars, but they believed in the King of kings. God had revealed his grace to them. God led them to realize that they had wealth beyond their wildest dreams. It wasn’t the gold, frankincense, or the myrrh. No. Their greatest treasure was Jesus Christ, the light of the world. That treasure moved them to share their other treasures in worship to the Lord.

God’s grace leads us to be more like the Magi. Unlike Herod, the Magi truly wanted to worship the Messiah King. God has revealed his grace in our lives, so that we have that same desire. That means we can worship God with sincerity. The gifts we bring to our Lord come from our hearts. After all, Jesus is the king. We give of ourselves because we know God first gave himself for us. Whether it’s helping provide refreshments on Sunday morning or simply sweeping the sidewalk; whether it’s getting involved with a committee and helping organize an area of ministry, or praying for someone else – its worship to our King.

And so we open up the treasures of our lives and offer them in humble service to our Savior. What can you give to your Savior? Do you have time? Then spend time on your Savior. Offer an hour to the Lord as you visit someone in the hospital or an elderly shut-in. Have you been blessed with monetary wealth? Give glory to your King; present him with a gift to improve his house of worship. Have you been blessed with voice that loves to sing? Present that gift to the Lord and use it in the choir. Have you been given two hands? Fold them in prayer for someone in need. Do you have two good feet? Use them to carry you to the neighbor’s house and invite them to church. Do you have one heart? Offer it to your Savior as a throne. It’s been said, “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” God has proven that to us. He gave himself to us because he loves us. God’s love is revealed in his Word. And his love is reflected in our lives as we worship him with our lives. Now, that’s an epiphany.

Let us pray: God of all heaven and earth, from the breath of your love came the creation of the world. We are amazed at the vast beauty of the night sky and at the intimate nature of the love you have for us your children. Be our daily star, guiding our lives to search for kingdom love. May we always follow your light of truth in all that we do, forever trusting, hoping and believing in your word. Lift our eyes tonight to see your eternal life shining brightly, leading us home. Amen.

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The Bible texts of the Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel lessons are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the USA, and used by permission.
God’s grace is revealed in his Word. His Word leads us to worship him with our lives.

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