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Delivered By
Rev. Nathaniel Schwartz
Delivered On
January 5, 2014
Central Passage
Matthew 2:1-12
Description

EPIPHANY SUNDAY                             JANUARY 5, 2014                                 MATTHEW 2:1-12

NOW AFTER JESUS WAS BORN IN BETHLEHEM OF JUDEA IN THE DAYS OF HEROD THE KING, BEHOLD, WISE MEN FROM THE EAST CAME TO JERUSALEM, SAYING, “WHERE IS HE WHO HAS BEEN BORN KING OF THE JEWS?  FOR WE SAW HIS STAR WHEN IT ROSE AND HAVE COME TO WORSHIP HIM.”  THEME:  WHERE IS HE?

When it comes to the Wise Men there seemingly are more questions than answers.  The conversation goes like this.  How many were there?  We’re not sure.   What were their namesWe don’t knowWhen precisely did they arrive?  Well, it was long after the shepherds had returned to the fields and after Mary and Joseph had traded their spot in the stable for a house in Bethlehem, but we don’t know for sure.

What’s ironic about all these questions and very few answers is the reality that these men were driven by questions, by curiosity, by a longing for answers.  Of course, we need to understand that these mysterious magi were most likely a class of priests, astronomers and astrologers that were influential advisors of the King of Babylon.  As such, they had heard of the promised Messiah from Daniel, the Israelite prophet who had lived in Babylon and had served in the king’s court while the Israelites were exiled in the region.

My friends, Daniel’s words about the coming Messiah ultimately created a deep-seated curiosity concerning the long promised leader of the Jews.  As a result, when this unknown star suddenly appeared in the sky, the magi associated it with the promised King of the Jews.  And so they packed up their camels and rode halfway across the known world all the way to Jerusalem.  There they expected to find the promised Messiah.  So when they arrived, they simply asked, “WHERE IS HE WHO HAS BEEN BORN KING OF THE JEWS?  FOR WE SAW HIS STAR WHEN IT ROSE AND HAVE COME TO WORSHIP HIM?”

Where is he?”  This, my friends, is a familiar question for us.  Yes, many people today want to know where God is.  Just think about that for a minute.  An angry high school student in Colorado enters his school seeking revenge, shoots a fellow student (an innocent 18-year-old girl) and a few days later she dies.  So many ask, “Where is God?”  A devastating typhoon destroys villages and towns in the Philippines, killing thousands, and leaving thousands more injured, homeless, and hungry.  So we ask, “Where is God?”  A major U.S. company relocates their operation to China leaving hundreds of American workers without a job and a way to provide for their families.  And they ask, “Where is God?”

Where is God?  Where is He?  Of course, we know that when the wise men entered Jerusalem and asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” they were met with blank stares.  No one was prepared to give them an answer.  Well, the same reaction to the question “Where is God” is common today.  It’s a seemingly difficult question.

It is an especially timely question today because it is Epiphany Sunday.  Now keep in mind that epiphany means “appearing” “shining forth” or “making known.”  Epiphany is the time in the Church year that focuses on how God reveals Himself to his people.   And we know God does so in three ways.  So let’s take a closer look as we discover the answer to the question, “Where is He?  Where is God?”

Well, when it comes to the question, “Where is God?” we should immediately recall the words of St. Paul, “But when the fullness of time had come God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Galatians 4:4-5), and the words of St. John,  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1,14).

Wow!  Scripture clearly teaches beyond all doubt that God reveals himself and presents himself in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.  So if you want to understand God, simply look at His Son!  For God is present among us in the person of the flesh-and-blood Jesus Christ, and reveals Himself to us in the life and ministry of Christ!

Perhaps an illustration will help.  There is a story told of an old farmer who lived by himself in a cabin.  Next to his cabin was a barn.  One very cold wintery night, birds began to crash into the windows of his warm cabin, trying to escape the deadly cold.  So the old man went outside and opened the barn door.  It was warm inside the barn.  So he waved his arms and shouted at the birds to go into the barn, into safety.  But they did not understand him.

It was then that the old man wished that he could become of them.  If he could become a bird, then he could lead the other birds into the barn, to avoid death.  And at that moment the old farmer understood why Jesus had come.  You see, although the old man could not become a bird, God could become a man.  So He did.  As St. John declares, “For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

My friends, when we search for the presence of God, we ultimately must stand at the foot of Mount Calvary.  It is there – at the foot of the cross – that God most fully gets “in touch” with man and man with God.  It is on the cross that God became one with us and aligned himself with us in our condition so that he might be “a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).  It is on the cross that God shows us the depth of His love for us as His Son suffers, bleeds, and dies for our forgiveness, life, and salvation!

The problem for many people, however, is that although they believe that God is present in His Son (Jesus Christ), they still feel alienated from Him because of their guilt and shame, fears and doubts.  They still search for some tangible means through which they can feel His presence and power.

Yes, the challenge that confronts us is to understand how this God, who revealed himself and declared his presence in Jesus Christ so long ago, is truly present for us today.  Where does He get in touch with us, and where do we touch Him?

Well, my friends, that’s why the Means of Grace are so important.  The Means of Grace are God’s delivery system.  It is the way God unites himself with us today and promises to abide with us throughout our lives.  It is the way God breaks into our world and delivers to us His gift of the forgiveness of sins, power to lead God-pleasing lives, and the assurance of eternal life in heaven!

Yes, through water and the Word, God binds himself to us in Holy Baptism and proclaims that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  Baptism is a declaration by God that the sin, which just should forever separate us from Him, is removed and we are one with Him and will receive all the blessings of His presence.

Likewise, our gracious God continues His presence in our lives through the gift of the Lord’s Supper.  In this most sacred meal, the God who is present in His Son, Jesus Christ, still offers His presence in, with, and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins and strength to live lives of faith.

Yes, nowhere are we more in touch with God or He with us than in the Means of Grace.  These gifts of God offer us union with Him and the assurance that He is near us to sustain us in our hour of trial, to equip us for the testing of our faith, and to strengthen us amidst the burdens, cares, and trials of this world.

Where is God?  He is present in His Son, Jesus Christ, who comes to us in God’s Holy Word and life-giving sacraments bringing to us every blessing of the victory purchased and won for us on the cross and through the empty tomb!

This brings us, then, to the final place God dwells and is present in our world   And that would be right here.  That’s right, God is present in us (who are members of His body, the church) and God is present through our service in the world.

My friends, this is clearly what Scripture teaches.  In fact, in His Letter to the Corinthians, Paul once wrote, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).  And to the Ephesians, Paul wrote, “So then you are no longer stranger and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).  And St. Peter wrote, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Clearly, my friends, God wants to use us to bring His compassion, forgiveness, and love to a world overcome with the darkness of sin and death and the forces of the evil one!  God wants to use each one of us – empowered by the Spirit through Word and Sacrament ministry – to make Jesus Christ and His love and hope real to every one we meet!

Yes, God wants to use us to bring the light of Christ to our world of darkness, despair, and death.  And that is why Jesus once said, “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden…Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16).   So arise, shine for Christ my friends, and draw wise men and women to Christ our Savior!

May God grant it for Jesus’ sake in your life and mine.  Amen and Amen.