Sermon for the Epiphany of Our Lord
January 6, 2019
Hoping and Waiting for the Coming King
Herod and all Jerusalem were troubled when they heard from a group of wise men that a king was born to the Jews, and that they had come to worship him. So, Herod summons the chief priests to ascertain from prophecy where the promised king was to be born. I guess it didn’t take them too long to figure out that it was to be Bethlehem, for the wise men were still hanging out when Herod relayed this news to them. In other words, the prophecies were not all that difficult to find or understand. They knew that a king was promised. One that would sit on the throne of his father David forever. They quickly figured out that this king was to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David, if they didn’t already know. But none, it seems, in Jerusalem were very interested. None had been anticipating this king.
I suppose we can understand. We have been waiting for equity and promises fulfilled in our land for our entire lives, even since the founding of our nation. We have been waiting so long that we have become cynical and don’t think it will ever happen, at least, not from our politicians. The prophecy from Micah that names Bethlehem was penned by the prophet about 700 years prior. That was during the same time frame as Isaiah, from whom we read in today’s Old Testament reading. I suppose it would become pretty easy to begin thinking that such prophecies would not be fulfilled any time soon. Even more so, when one is comfortable with the status quo. We might expect ignorance and lack of faith from Herod, who was not a Jew, but from all Jerusalem? From the chief priests and the leaders of the Jews? How could they not notice the star? How could they not be ready for the King’s arrival?
Jesus would later talk to them about signs. He would remind them that they already recognize the coming weather and know how to read the changing seasons and so, should recognize the coming judgment by the signs. They had all the directions in the prophets, all that God had revealed to men, yet this king foretold came unnoticed by all but a few shepherds and faithful men and women.
We might ask that, since all to whom the prophecies had been given, didn’t notice the star or the birth of the Savior, why did these wise men? Surely they saw new things in the skies from time to time. What made this one different? How would they know that such a king was to be born? Why would they be waiting and anticipating the birth of a king in a land that had not seen its heyday for about 1000 years?
The answer comes from what Isaiah prophesied. He warned Israel of her destruction and he warned Judah of their exile. He also told of God’s plan of restoration and return to their own land. A little more than 100 years after Isaiah’s death, Judah would be carried off to Babylon. We are familiar with Daniel and the three men in the fiery furnace. Their lives were spent in service to the Babylonian king as counselors and advisors. They were considered wise men. We might not think of them as magi, but their peers were the magi and their role was the same, accumulate wisdom and advise the king. To the pool of corporate knowledge in Babylon, these men, and others, brought the wisdom of the Hebrew Scriptures. They brought the prophecies that spoke of a king and a star, the promises of God that He would save His people from sin and deliver them from the oppression of the devil.
These wise men from the east believed the words and they anticipated their fulfillment. While Jerusalem had become comfortable and no longer looked with anticipation for God’s fulfillment, these stargazers had been looking all along and had been waiting for the fulfillment of prophecy. And when they saw the sign, they followed that they might worship the One that was foretold.
Have you ever seen one of those great big Bibles that has all the space in the front to enter your family tree? You may even have one. From a generation that cherished their Bible so much that it was the logical place to keep important information such as the family ancestry, we now get Bibles that seem to be important only because they have a few fancy pages on which to record our ancestors. These Bible represent Jerusalem that had all the prophecy, the promises spoken by God, but its best use seems to be as a display piece on the coffee table, an item to be admired for its aesthetic value more than its prophetic value. There is nothing wrong with having such a Bible, but if the only use we can find for God’s Word is as a paper weight, then we have become as comfortable in our sin as Jerusalem was under Roman rule.
We have everything we need in that Bible pointing to the saving grace of God in the child born to be King. We have all the wisdom given by God to men that directs us to the infant that was worshiped by the Magi. But do we pay attention? Are we anticipating the coming of the King and the fulfillment of prophecy? Or, are we, like Jerusalem, comfortable with the way things are? Are we too rich to be bothered with needing assistance? Do we believe that we are in so much control that we don’t need a liberator? Are we so satisfied by our sated passions and with our sin that we don’t think we need, or worse, don’t want, a Savior? Are we so blinded by greed and lusts that we do not see the star before us that guides the way to the one born king of the Jews? Has the compiled wisdom gone so unused and collected so much dust on the coffee table that we have forgotten that God has promised us salvation?
While Jerusalem was troubled, foreigners came and worshiped Jesus. Today, it seems, the Church is troubled by many things but not by sin. Today, far too great a portion of the Church is concerned more about social justice than worshiping the King. But if the visible churches do not worship their Lord; if the baptized do not repent and offer their gifts of value and service; then it will be others that will see and believe and be saved.
So, you say you want to be like the wise men and not like troubled Jerusalem. You want to follow the star where it leads. You wish to behold and worship Jesus. Well, you have chosen the correct road as you have entered in humility, on bended knee, confessing your inability to control your own behavior and thoughts, that you are even comfortable in your sin. Wisdom is shining as you seek a Savior. You are guided by that Wisdom as you believe that what is spoken in the Scriptures is true, whether you understand it all or not. It is not just Micah that directs you to Bethlehem but all of the prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures that directs you to Zion, to Golgotha, to Jesus crucified and risen for you.
Welcome to the place where your King promises to meet you; the place where you are to behold and worship Him; the place where you lay down your troubles, sins and anxieties, and He gives you the gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation.