The Epiphany of Our Lord - Matthew 2:1012 - January 6, 2015
Order of Service – Pg. 15
Hymn #127 As With Gladness, Men of Old
Hymn #131 The Star Proclaims the King Is Here
Hymn#59 Hail To the Lord’s Anointed
Collect for the Epiphany of Our Lord
O God, Who by the leading of a star didst manifest Thine Only-Begotten Son to the Gentiles, mercifully grant that we, who know Thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of Thy glorious Godhead; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. Amen.
Sermon on the Holy Gospel
1) Epiphany is the inverted image of Christmas. On Christmas we celebrate the incarnation of the Only-Begotten Son of God. God becomes man. God enters the world in human flesh and receives a unfortunate reception. Joseph and Mary traveling to be taxed by a foreign regime. The city of David bursting at the seems with those of the house and line of David, so full that there is no room in the inn for the holy family. Jesus' birth is announced by angelic fanfare, though not to Herod, not the Sanhedrin, not to the High Priest, but to shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks by night. These shepherds, one of the lowest rungs on the social ladder of the day, rush to welcome the newborn Savior. God has appeared as man, a poor man at that, and is welcomed as a man, rather than the eternal God that He is. Epiphany is different though, though no less important. The feast of the Epiphany is actually older than Christ's Mass. Whereas Christmas celebrates the incarnation, God appearing as a lowly, humble, fleshly man, Epiphany celebrates this man, born of the Virgin Mary, as God. Finally the child receives a modicum of the honor due His great name when wise men from the East arrive and present Him with their land's most precious gifts. They not only give Him expensive gifts, they give to the Christ-child something far more important. They fell down and worshiped Him.
2) This isn't a posture that we're familiar with. Whether such falling down laying prostrate, nose to the ground, or whether its the reverent genuflection of dropping to one knee, we are not in a place that does that sort of thing. In America everyone is equal. We don't kneel or bow before our presidents or congressmen, our mayor or councilman. We're Americans. We shake hands with everyone no matter their status. This is partially because Americans have a problem with authority, its in our blood and has been since the time we were colonies. Bowing, falling down, genuflection, those are outward acts which confess that one person is greater than another, if not morally than civilly. You bow before a king. You genuflect before a potentate. You fall down on your face before someone who is greater than you. Imagine yourself, nose in the dirt, eyebrows on the asphalt, bowing to someone. It is more than a demonstration of humility, it is a confession of faith. It is a confession that the one to whom you bow is far greater than you shall ever be, and that you are entirely at His mercy. That's why in Daniel 3 King Nebuchadnezzar erects a statue of Himself to be worshiped. When all the people heard the sound of the horn, flute, harp, and lyre, in symphony with all kinds of music, all the people, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the gold image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up (Daniel 3:7). You only bow before your superior. You only kneel before your Lord. That's why we Americans don't really go for such a thing.
3) Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon with His own Magi, his own wise men, had demanded that he be worshiped as a god. Such was the height of his megalomania, and this folly is repeated often through history. In this Nebuchadnezzar meant to usurp the true God of heaven and earth. The only one you are really to be falling down and worshiping is the Lord God. In Revelation 5:14 the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever. The four living creatures were a class of the holy angels who were created to offer the Triune God perpetual worship. The church triumphant follows suit. In Revelation 19:4 the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne, saying, “Amen! Alleluia!” There is a posture for worshiping the true God, who is above all and in all and through all. In Acts 10:25 when the God-fearing Gentile, Cornelius, meets Peter coming, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him until Peter told him to get up since he too was only a man, not worthy of worship and reverence that is only due to God. Bowing, genuflecting, and prostrating oneself, that is just what one does when they are in the presence of God. The holy angels bow in worship. The Church triumphant falls down in faith. It is a sign that the one to whom you bow in your Lord and God.
4) So that is what these wise men do. They have traveled some distance not to marvel at an astronomical anomaly, nor have they made this journey to inquire what kind of omen the star brings. They know exactly what it means. Perhaps they had heard from the annals of the Babylonian Magi the teachings of the prophet Daniel concerning the Messiah of the entire race. Were they familiar with the Books of Moses and the words of Balaam's prophesy from Numbers 24:17, I see him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise our of Israel. Perhaps they gazed to the heavens and saw a new star, the star of Jacob, the star that is depicted in our stained glass above the organ, and saw the fulfillment of Balaam's words. Maybe they had seen the star in the East and calculated the weeks of Daniel's prophesy and arrived at the conclusion that the God of Daniel was in fact fulfilling ancient prophesy. We don't know how they knew it, but St. Matthew is certain that they did, for they came bearing gifts worthy of a king, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They present these gifts to the child, the one born king of the Jews, only after they have fallen down and worshiped Him, confessing their faith that this child was God Himself in human flesh, because God is the only one who ought to receive such worship. By this posture of praise the wise men demonstrate that theirs was a genuine faith, a sure confidence that though they understood not how it was, that this child, flesh and blood, was the appearance, the manifestation, the Epiphany of God Himself.
5) We have much to learn from these wise men from the East who come to fall down and worship the Christ child. As Americans we do not like to admit the superiority of anyone over us, even it is true. Perhaps that's not a uniquely American trait but one that belongs to all descendants of Adam and Eve. Sinners rebel against any authority, even as Satan rebelled against the Lord and was cast from heaven. So the ancient serpent taught Adam and Eve, and still teaches each of us, to rebel against any sort of authority, including spiritual authority. Too often we treat the Lord as if He were just another man. Too often we stop at Christmas, the with the celebration of the incarnation, that God became man, and assume that because He's man we don't have to treat Him as God. Perhaps that's why the Epiphany is such an underrated holy day in our era. Our flesh can twist the incarnation into something it's not, that God is man and therefore just like me, with my sensibilities, my hangups, my pet peeves, and my desires, so that we forget the true celebrated today, that the man is also revealed to be fully God, the only one who deserves, and still demands, our worship and praise, our confidence and faith. Too many in our age treat Jesus as their best friend, their fishing partner, or their good buddy. They fail to worship Him because they make Him into a man who has ceased to be God. Even among the faithful these attitudes creep in subtly and covertly so that we are tempted to make the man Jesus our therapist, our life coach, or our personal cheerleader. When we find ourselves making Jesus into something other than God in human flesh, and fully God at that, we must repent of our idolatrous view of the Savior.
6) From these wise men we learn the antidote do such misshapen view of the incarnation of the Son of God. They fall down and worship. I know what you're thinking, “Pastor, if I got down on one knee I'd never get up. If I fell nose to the ground we'd need a lift to get me back up.” And that's fine, nor should any law or commandment be made about the ceremony of worship since the desire for the forgiveness of sins is the true worship of God. But if you are able to kneel, bow, or genuflect physically, then by all means, you may! There is precedent after all. Most of you are still physically able to kneel to receive the Lord's Super and do so. Have you ever considered why you do that? Why there's a rail? Why there's a kneeling cushion at the altar of God? Because here Christ comes to you, physically, in the bread and wine of the Sacrament of the Altar. You're not invited to kneel simply out of propriety or reverence, but because Christ Himself, who is God in human flesh, is truly present in His human flesh and blood to be gracious to you and forgive you all of your sins and transgressions. You kneel at the altar the same reason the wise men fell down before the Christ-child. You are in the physical presence of God Himself in, with, and under the bread and wine.
7) Whether or not you choose to worship outwardly this way or not is an indifferent thing. For the Magi's physical posture was only an outward expression of what they had already been doing in their hearts the entire journey. You may not always be able to bow the knee, physically. But you are always able to bow the knee of your heart, to genuflect in your spirit, humbling yourself before your Lord and your God. Faith is the is the true worship of God. Faith accepts the Word of Christ as true though human reason, imagination, popular opinion, and your own mind rage against it. Faith humbles oneself before God in the heart, confessing one's sins and believing that those sins are atoned for by the bitter, innocent sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ in His flesh. Faith, belief in Christ's promises, that is how you bow the knee of your heart. Faith is how your soul genuflects. Confident trust in your Savior is how you lay prostrate before Him because faith is how He wants to be worshiped. These wise men teach us that. Posture is important because we are man of earth and spirit, body as well as soul. But the outward posture must be born of faith in the heart, otherwise its all just show for yourself and others. These wise men, Magi of the East, teach us true worship when St. Matthew writes that they fell down and worshiped. May it be so among us always, if not the knee, always in the heart, giving thanks for all the blessings and mercies the same Christ shows to us again physically today. Amen.