Christmas 2, A (Epiphanycelebrated) – January 5, 2014

Scriptures – Isaiah60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12; John 1:1-18

 

TheWord became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as ofthe only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… From his fullness wehave all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; graceand truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God,who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:14-18)

 

2014: what a blessed New Year forus! Blessed, for God has given us His Son. Our Light has come! Jesus is a greatblessing; but, this blessing is clothed in mystery.

 

What is a mystery? Let meillustrate. Last year, after my father died, my brother and sister-in-law and Iwere going through his things in his and mom’s apartment. One of them cameacross two very odd dust covered bottles that were filled with green liquid.They were odd because one bottle was in the shape of a tennis racquet and theother of a golf club. “What in the heckare these?” As soon as I saw them, I knew. They were gifts I had proudlypurchased for my dad one Christmas when I was a boy. He loved tennis and golf,so I just knew he would love getting after shave fragrance in tennis racquetand golf club bottles! Now, the fragrance was terrible and the dust showed thathe never embarrassed me by wearing it. But, he kept it, because his son gave itto him. Those mysterious bottles were reminders of my father’s love.

 

A mystery lies before us in theinfant born in Bethlehem and worshiped by the Magi. As we recall their visit, maywe learn and take to heart the mystery of Jesus: of who and what He is, and of howwe come to know Him. This mystery of Jesus is not discovered by our wisdomand intelligence – although, the story of the Magi’s visit might seem to teach that it is. This is sobecause for centuries the Magi have also been called the Wise Men. No onecalled them that in the 1st century, however. Magi were notintellectuals or scholars. They were not consulted by the kings and royaltythey served for their wise counsel. Instead, they, together with wizards andsorcerers (see Daniel 2) were practitioners of occult learning who were calledupon for the interpretation of dreams and the revealing of secrets. The Jewishhearers of the story of their visit would have been shocked that Magi – men whodid not worship the one God of Israel,  but many gods; who often served rulers whooppressed the people of Israel; and who were in league with wizards and sorcerers– were among the first to worship Jesus! Matthew indicates this by saying, “Nowafter Jesus was born in Bethlehem, behold! Magi from the east came…” (Mt.2:1) How surprising!

 

Read Matthew’s Gospel and you willsee that it was not their wisdom that led the Magi to Jesus. They saw a greatnew star and concluded – we’re not told how – that a new Jewish king had beenborn. So, they followed it to Israel’s capital city of Jerusalem, notBethlehem, and ended up in the court of King Herod. It was only after beingtold from God’s Word (Micah 5) that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem thatthey went there and found Him. God’s Word, and not man’s wisdom, led them to Jesus.

 

Of course, those Magi did havedevotion and persistence. Who knows how far and for how long they traveled tofind Jesus? But, look at what their devotion and persistence did: they first wentto Jerusalem and Herod, a jealous and murderous king who would brook no rivals.He tried to use them to find, and kill, the newborn king. Their devotion almostled to Jesus’ untimely death! But, God intervened. His Word led them to Bethlehem,where they found Jesus and offered Him their gifts and their worship. God then protectedthem, warning them in a dream to go home another way. He also prevented Herodfrom capitalizing on their blunder by warning Joseph to leave Bethlehem beforeHerod’s soldiers arrived.

 

By His Word God directed all ofthese things. The Magi listened to it, believed it, and followed it, and by it theywere received into the mystery of Christ. The mystery is that those strangers,those Magi who formerly had been very spiritually lost and deluded, werereceived by God as sons when they listened to His Word! As my dad gladlyreceived my bottles of after shave, while ignoring and not exposing their odor,because I was his son, so God treated the Magi as sons. He received their giftsand guided and protected them with His love. The apostle Paul says: “Thismystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, andpartakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Eph.3:6) Jesus came, not just to rule as Israel’s King, but to rule for all people,even the most spiritually lost and deluded.

 

Take this mystery to heart. “TheWord became flesh and dwelt among us.” It is not because you are sowise that you believe this, but because by His Word God has given you thisfaith and brought you forth as His child. Do not boast of man’s wisdom, for Goddespises it. He receives only faith! In this new year, then, dedicate yourselfmore and more to hearing and learning God’s Word. You will know Jesus. You willknow Him as “the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And fromHis fullness you will receive “grace upon grace.” The first graceyou receive in Jesus is the grace of truly knowing God. Apart from Him, God isa mystery. We do not see Him, and by our own wisdom we cannot understand Him. Butnow, rejoice! Though no one has ever seen God, “the only God, who is at theFather’s side, he has made him known” – and by faith alone. What grace!By faith alone! This means that, even if you are not wise, or if your wisdom isdeparting due to illness or the ravages of age, God still receives you. Throughsimple faith in Jesus you are His.

 

The second grace you have in Jesus isthe grace of having God receive you and treat you as His dearly loved child. Hereceives your worship and your efforts to follow His will for your life inChrist, and so He receives them without judgment or condem-nation. Howimportant it is to know this mystery and hang onto it, lest we trust in ourpiety and works of devotion! For, they always fail. Sometimes you feel goodabout yourself and your faith. You are doing what pleases God. But then, youstumble and fall into sin and feel miserable about yourself. Especially thenyou must remember that in Jesus you have “received grace upon grace.” If Godwere to look at your worship and works of service according to your sincerityand purity of effort, even the best you offer would stink like the lousy aftershave I gave to my father. But, in Christ God treats us as His children. “Toall who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to becomechildren of God.”

 

Go forth into this new year, then,with the confidence of a child: of God’s child. Like the Magi, entrust yourselfto God and follow His Word to see your King and Savior. He who caused the Magi,with their worship and works, to be forever remembered has received you inChrist, and in Him He will bless you forever!