Life Sunday 2019 LSB #’s 613,571, 918
Text – Ezekiel 18:31-32
Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, & make yourselves a new heart & a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, & live.”
LISTEN TO THE HEART
Back in the 1980’s a medical drama aired on television that was not as widely watched as it was critically acclaimed. It dedicated itself to getting characters developed, & to presenting correct medical technology & jargon. In one memorable episode, a man was critically injured & despite heroic efforts to save his life, he was declared brain dead.
His grieving wife was presented with the option to give his organs for transplant & she compassionately gave her permission. Her husband was kept on life support, donor recipients were notified, & several hours of painful waiting followed for the wife as the procedures were completed.
Late that night, she asked to meet the wife of the man who received her husband’s heart. In a sobbing embrace the two met, one with tears of grief, the other with tears of joy. The widow made a final request. She asked if she could go into the ICU & sit alone with the heart recipient for a few moments. The family consented & she entered into the dimly lit room.
With tears flowing from her eyes she gazed down at the unconscious patient. Then with tender care, she slowly placed her head on the patient’s chest & listened to her husband’s heart beating within a different man’s chest. Nothing was said. She wanted to hear for herself that part of her husband was still alive.
Listening to the heart – goes on in emergency rooms & care facilities across our land every day as doctors & nurses gauge life simply by that beating sound emanating from the chest. If you didn’t know, a baby’s heart begins its audible beat about 18 days into the pregnancy & that wonderful sound continues until the day that death occurs. Listening to the heart goes on in almost every doctor’s appointment, with physicians trying to hear any telltale signs of problem or illness. Listening to the heart is often a marvel for young children who place their ears on each other’s chest.
Listening to the heart is a wonder to new moms & dads who remember the day the ultrasound picked up not only the audible beat but also the image of their unborn child’s pulsating heart. Listening to the heart is literally listening to life.
For Yahweh, life is what Creation was all about: “In the beginning, God created the heavens & the earth. The earth was without form & void, & darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2). If ever there was a time pregnant with expectation, this was it! God spoke to creation & it came to be.
By the 6th day, all the preliminaries were complete & the pinnacle of it all waited. God was about to create the 1st man, Adam, & out of him He would later create the 1st woman, Eve. They were not just part of creation – they were the reason for it.
Man’s life was the sacred piece which gave sun, moon, planets, oceans, plants, animals, light & dark, & all other things their purpose. It was all about man. It was all about life.
How things have changed! Today, as determined by the ‘committee of society,’ creation itself is worshiped with plants & animals being given the same pinnacle role as mankind. The life of man is being reduced by creation’s hunt to find a lesser place for him & certainly not at the center where God placed him.
And in that hunt for its rightful place, mankind in its arrogance challenges the Creator’s ownership of life. Pre-born babies, the elderly, & the infirm are terminated by choice for reasons of convenience, cost & comfort, & that’s not the half of it. While beating hearts are good enough proof in medical circles for life, we know that it isn’t good enough for God. The hearts he gave Adam & Eve were not corrupt. They were perfect organs of life meant to beat eternally. In man’s soul desire hid, & when he acted on it the victim was life itself. Adam’s heart kept beating, but his soul was living only on a gracious promise. The same is the case for all people.
After The Fall, St. Paul clarifies that the great & terrible equalizer for the human race is death because of sin. “[T]here is no distinction,” he says, “for all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22b-23). We deserved nothing good from God & we should have been left to waste eternity’s promise over the sad course of a human life span.
From a righteousness perspective, none of us can hear a heartbeat in our chest, because nothing good of our own beats there. This is where many people who care to believe something about God find in Him a distant being of anger & vengeance. They somehow listen to God’s chest & find it silent for them – no life, no chance, no hope.
So, with fatalistic abandon they pursue the only dreams & life they can imagine, one focused on self, even if it is selfishly bent on doing good & serving earthly life. Without God, human hearts have no other function than to beat toward their day of death.
But listen to the heart of God.
Isn’t it interesting that God chose to incarnate His Son into the form of a 2nd Adam? Christ Jesus, like us, had a heartbeat early in His mother’s pregnancy. He too had a heartbeat all throughout His life, which fell silent after innocently enduring the tortures of the cross so that you & I could be redeemed from our certain destruction.
Some might say Jesus’ death was premature. Nothing could be farther from the truth. His loving mission was to let His heart be stopped at a precise moment in time so that His life might be freely given in grace. This to make your beating heart pump with new life – His life. Listening to the heart of God is what the Bible is all about. Paul wrote in Galatians, “…because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (4:6) God chose the center of our life to be the place that His Spirit inhabits. That makes Baptism special, because there, in the water & by the Word, Jesus’ heart is being washed into us.
There, in the water & by the Word, Jesus is personally calling us into God’s original plan for the 1st man & the 1st woman. The plan of the Holy Trinity is simple: A wonderful communion of Creator & created, based on love from the Father, life from the Son, & care from the Spirit, all for you.
Have you stopped a beating heart? Perhaps you’ve done this quite literally or perhaps you’ve wanted to do this to someone or to yourself. Maybe you’ve joined the world in wrongly challenging God & finding other life more precious than man’s. God has a message for you:
“Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, & make yourselves a new heart & a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 18:31). Confess your sins & admit that by them death has ruled you. Come clean on your selfish desires & you’ll be surprised.
Before the echo of your confession stops, you will hear God’s beating heart in the words of the absolution. “…turn, & live” (18:32), declares the Lord through the prophet Ezekiel. Your sins are forgiven! Your penalty canceled. Your shame & grief released, no matter what you have done.
With loving kindness unknown anywhere else, Christ has made Himself your heart donor & you have new life. It comes with the highest worth but with no price. Listen to it not for new rules, but rather for God’s love for you. Such a resurrection of your heart from the death of sin is real. After three days of silence in the tomb, Jesus’ heart started beating again & it beats still as He rules in heaven & walks with you in your new life given through faith at Baptism. Your life will never end, even when your heart stops. God has graciously preserved you not as a perfect specimen, but instead as His perfectly loved child. He has invited you to join your new heart with His to beat loudly with life & for life in this dead world.
You can speak up for the pre-born, or participate in the debate about life policy on all levels. You can assist the elderly in persevering in life until their heart stops in the fullness of their time, however long that might be; or you can advocate for life even in the body’s suffering, pain & distress. You can do it with your new, beating heart of love.
Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (John 15:9a) It is true & He assures us that in faith we will remain in that love in this life & the next.
The woman entering into that hospital emergency room wanted to listen to her husband’s heart beat with life one more time. We sinners put our ears to the Word & to the Sacraments for there it is impossible to miss the beat of our new, loving heart, sure evidence of the fullness of everlasting life that God has given to us.
The world has changed when it comes to life, there is no doubt. But God has not changed His mind or His mercy. His Son’s life is yours, now & forever! Listen to the heart of God & there you will find your life. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!
God loved the world so that He gave His only Son the lost to save, that all who would in Him believe should everlasting life receive. Christ Jesus is the ground of faith, who was made flesh & suffered death; all then who trust in Him alone are built on this chief cornerstone. Amen. LSB 571:1-2.
2nd Sunday after Epiphany – C LW #79, LSB #’s 420, 394
Text – John 2:11
This beginning of signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed His glory, & His disciples believed in Him.
WHEN THE WINE WAS GONE
This familiar story is the 1st miracle recorded by St. John, & according to his text the 1st miracle that Jesus performed. Now days, we commonly refer to it as a miracle, but John simply calls it – this beginning of signs. For John the focus is not upon the sign itself, the changing of water into wine, but on the fact which the sign points to.
For the Apostle John, the signs point to the fact that Jesus is not merely a man. Jesus is, in reality, the one chosen by God to save the world. Jesus is man and God. Who else could suspend the laws of nature, but He who created those very laws.
The Apostle uses the word signs to lessen the emphasis on the miracles, & to increase the emphasis upon what the miracles point to, the glory & the divinity of the man Jesus.
In the 1st chapter of his Gospel John wrote, “The Word became flesh & made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One & Only, who came from the Father, full of grace & truth.” Now, through the story of the water being turned into wine, John proceeds to tell you & me about the glory the disciples saw, & how they saw it.
When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to Him, “They have no more wine.” Her Son replies, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” His mother then said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”
We see that Mary comes to her Son with what is, in effect, a prayer. She’s asking Him for help. As is often the case with us, the prayer is answered with the instruction to be patient.
The time is not right. Yet Mary is not offended, & proves her trust in her Son by telling the
servants to do whatever He tells them. She then leaves it up to Jesus to determine the course of action & the timing. PAUSE
How often do we take offense when God does not answer our prayers as we see fit? When God doesn’t follow our time table, don’t we frequently give up on Him? Don’t we commonly take matters into our own hands, & end up making the situation worse?
Then, we feel even more sorry for ourselves. Then, we have our guilt to deal with as well. At that point we wish we had simply left things alone. So let’s take our example from the mother of Jesus & seek humility, obedience & patience rather than answers.
Another point to bring out is that Jesus let them run out of wine in the 1st place. He allowed them to run out so they would recognize their need. In regard to this miracle Martin Luther said:
“No one can fully appreciate the grace of God until he feels his need for it. Mercy doesn’t feed those who are full & satisfied, but it does feed those who are hungry. He that is wise, strong & finds something good in himself, & is not yet poor, miserable, sick, a sinner & fool; he cannot come to Christ nor receive His grace.”
Meanwhile, back at the wedding, & when the time is right, Jesus tells the servants to fill the jars with water. He tells them to draw some out of the jars & give it to the master of the banquet. After tasting it the master calls the bridegroom aside & says, “Everyone brings out the best wine first & then the cheaper wine last. But you have saved the best until now.”
The master of the banquet is perplexed. This is backwards from common sense. It defies human reason to save the good wine for when the people cannot appreciate it. Financially it makes no sense to waste the expensive wine on people who can no longer discriminate between good wine & bad. But then it makes no sense either, that God would take sinful, stubborn, selfish & unloving people like us & spend the life of His Son for our sins. The grace of God makes no sense to human beings without the work of the Holy Spirit creating belief & faith in our heart. To unbelievers it seems ridiculous to take the blame, & the pain, intended for someone else. Human wisdom says, “They made their bed, let them lie in it!”
God’s wisdom is far superior. God’s wisdom & perfection allow Him no other choice but to do the best. When Yahweh created this world it was perfect. Men ruined it through their sin, & ever since have known nothing else but imperfection.
All our lives we have known want & need. Everything we do, & experience, falls far short of God’s original design & creation.
The experiences of our lives tell us that everything we do, even our best intentions, eventually fail, spoil or come to ruin. And we seldom even attempt to do our best. We often ruin things right from the start. Many marriages fail in less than a year. New cars are damaged within weeks, & something like 90% of new businesses fail within five years.
The dinner gets burned. The floor gets dirty. Our new year’s resolutions last barely a day. Our homework doesn’t get done. We fail our tests. We’re late for appointments, & our bodies get old. Nothing ever completely satisfies. We want more & more & more. That’s what we learn from the school of hard knocks. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
So what’s this revealing of the glory of Jesus all about? It is about the reversal of the sinful order of the world as you & I have learned it. It’s about water becoming wine, about the unclean becoming clean, about sinners becoming saints. The glory of Jesus was fully revealed by His power to change the dead into the living.
In the old order of things the wages of sin is death. But in the new order of things, sin is paid for, & death is conquered. Jesus came that we might have life & have it to the full. The
revealing of Jesus’ glory shows a glimpse of a new quality of existence. An existence where there’ll be no more falling short of complete satisfaction. Even with our eyesight, which has been weakened by sin, through Christ we can see a new & glorious life. Through faith we now see it though dimly. Yet it is unmistakable.
By changing water into wine Christ has signaled the beginning of a truly new world order. It’s a world order where Christ is the head of His body the church. It’s an order where there’s no more sickness, no more weeping & no more sorrow.
The choice wine, which the master of the banquet tasted, is a sign of the ultimate truth. The truth that in Christ Jesus man is once again holy & perfect & sinless, just as God created us to be. We are in perfect harmony with Him, our Lord & our Savior.
Once the manmade wine was gone Jesus began to reveal Himself as Messiah. On Easter Sunday He completely reveals His glory through His resurrection from the dead. He conquered death with His life, & He offers that same life to you even now.
But He does not offer it in some abstract form, that is theory only. Jesus didn’t just change water into wine in some mythological tale. The master of the banquet gives evidence of the fact when he tells the groom, “Everyone brings out the best wine first… but you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:10)
We too encounter confusion about the turn of events in our lives. The times we took offense because God didn’t answer our prayer the way we wanted, Jesus can turn the memory of them into a lesson of life giving humility. When we’ve failed a test, Christ can use that to teach us lessons about perseverance, in spite of our sense of failure.
Damage we’ve done to a new car through an accident can help us learn that the things of this world are not worth getting upset over. Maybe the dirty floors don’t even need to be cleaned as often as you think! You see God’s forgiveness doesn’t just overlook the sins we commit. His forgiveness is meant to change our entire outlook on life, from one of being self-centered to one of being God-centered.
Your very attitude toward life is meant to be changed to one of joy & celebration because of the God who loves us & longs to change us, to change us from plain & ordinary human beings, into Christians with glorified bodies like our Savior has had since His resurrection.
He died & He rose from the dead in order that He might change our eternal death into eternal life. The signs which Jesus performed are meant to point to Him as the Lord of life. Amen.
Christ the life of all the living, Christ, the death of death, our foe, Who Thyself for me once giving, to the darkest depths of woe: through Thy sufferings, death & merit, I eternal life inherit. Thousand, thousand thanks shall be, dearest Jesus unto Thee. Amen. LSB 420:1.
The Baptism of our Lord – C LSB #’s 400, 731, 397
Text – Luke 3:17
His winnowing fork is in His hand to clear His threshing floor & to gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.
WHEAT & CHAFF
One of the things I remember from childhood is walking along the edge of fields of wheat. I remember because for some reason a ripe field of wheat swaying in the breeze with the sun shining upon it is a sight that I appreciate. I also remember, because somewhere along the line, I was taught how to shell a head of wheat in order to eat the kernels.
You take a ripe head of wheat in your hands & roll it like this until all the chaff is stripped off. Then you carefully blow the chaff away & you’re left with the grain, which is eatable. I guess it’s one of those rituals that is passed down from generation to generation when you’re raised in the midst a farming culture.
In the sermon text, the picture that John the Baptist paints for his listeners is a very familiar one to the Jews. Because farming was one of their chief occupations, threshing floors were found almost everywhere. They were simply hard packed dirt located in open fields where the wind had easy access in order to quickly separate the wheat & the chaff.
The threshing floor represents the part of the world that God has placed us in. It’s the context in which we live our lives. It’s the good times & the bad. It’s your job, your home, your family, your school, your friends & your enemies. The threshing floor represents everything about your world, believer & unbeliever, saint & sinner.
The wheat are the people who have repentant hearts. The chaff are those who have refused repentance, for whatever reason. God is the thresher man whose separation of the wheat & the chaff is a labor of love. And because it’s a labor of love that separation is not entirely put off until Judgment Day, but begins already in this life. Once death arrives your eternal future is decided. Judgment at the final resurrection simply makes public what has already been seen & determined with your last breath.
Other well-known Biblical imagery, dealing with the concept of separation, speaks of Judgment Day like this: “All the nations will be gathered before Him, & He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:32) On the Last Day the promise of God will be fulfilled; separation will be completed for eternity.
Still another Biblical text brings in imagery from those who make their living off the sea. “When the net was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down & collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come & separate the wicked from the righteous.” (Matthew 13:48)
Do you hear the cadence in these phrases – wicked & righteous, goats & sheep, wheat & chaff? That cadence is meant to march you & me down the road of truth. Many human beings who are alive in this world today will be condemned to hell by God almighty. The sermon text pictures it by saying the Creator will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
That’s a fire which will never go out. The punishment will never end. The people in hell will never find rest. That picture has been lost in our culture. It’s not uncommon for pastors to be asked, “Why are there times when God commanded the Israelites to kill every single person in a city or nation that they had just conquered?”
Our people have lost the picture of a God who is Holy. They no longer understand how the God they know could harm even a flea. The problem is they know only half of Yahweh. People don’t read or don’t comprehend anymore the point of the OT – Jesus Christ is not optional. If you reject Him, as so many in the OT did, you will be removed from His presence for all of eternity. In particularly bloody imagery Jesus tells His disciples it is better to cut off your hand or foot than to spend eternity where the fire never goes out. It’s better to pluck your eye out than to be thrown into hell where the worm does not die & the fire is not quenched.
For the people that Israel conquered, which God ordered to be killed, their death in this life was nothing compared to the punishment awaiting them in eternity. But it’s easy to feel sorry for them because that costs me nothing.
There are living men, women & children whom we have personally spoken with, worked with & lived with who are also on that death march to hell. Have we the courage to warn them before the day in which God has appointed them to die? PAUSE
In the OT book of Leviticus it says, “Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.” (15:31 ESV) The people that Israel was ordered to kill were being punished for their unbelief, but that was not the only reason they died.
God was also keeping His chosen people, Israel, separate from those who were hardened in unbelief & idolatry. God was protecting His children, by separating the wheat & the chaff. Could it be that some of God’s children need protection from you? Could it even be said that you are your own worst enemy?
John the Baptist recognized that in himself. Some, who heard him speak, wondered if he might be the Christ. But John answers, “…I’m not even worthy to be his slave & untie the straps of His sandal.” (John 1:27 NLT) The Baptist was well aware that he was his own worst enemy, & he knew that about the people of Israel as well.
That’s why John was warning them – the wheat & the chaff are even now being separated. Sin & rebellion are also engrained in our nature, & we too must always be warned of the coming fire. We should never take for granted the evil that still lives within. It cannot be asked but politely to leave. The trials & sufferings we endure in this world, in this threshing floor, they are meant not only to separate us from hardened unbelievers, but to separate us from the sinful nature within us. And each of you has felt the pain of that process.
The opening hymn for this service was written for the celebration of Epiphany, a time when Christ is still a child. The lyrics speak of the guiding star that led the Magi to the Messiah. This morning it’s not even three weeks since we celebrated the birth of Jesus, yet in today’s Gospel reading He has aged already 30 years.
In about three months we mark His death with the services of Good Friday. One of His seven words from the cross is this: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” It was there that God’s own Son suffered the greatest separation of all, as He became the chaff which bore the unquenchable fire; a fire that you & I fully deserved.
In Holy Communion we receive the blood that He shed there for the remission of our sins. It is the blood of that Christ, who is the final fulfillment of the Passover Lamb, which marks & separates you so that the angel of death will pass over you. It is we who are the wheat that our Lord gathers into His barn for safekeeping. PAUSE
As parents in a farming culture willingly pass down certain rituals like the shelling a of head of wheat in ones hands, it should bring even greater joy to pass down the comforting news that Jesus has removed everything that once separated us from the love & majesty of our heavenly Father.
The sufferings & trials of this life are not meant to harm, but to separate us from evil that we might never again be separated from our Lord & Creator. As we welcome that good news into our own heart, there are people who have not yet heard but who will rejoice at the news of a God who loves them & searches for them even among the chaff of this world. It’s a labor of love for our Lord to seek that which was lost. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. And while on the cross that Son endured complete separation from His Father in order that you might never have to. Amen.
O God, forsake me not! Lord, I am Yours forever. O keep me strong in faith that I may leave you never. Grant me a blessed end when my good fight is fought; help me in life & death – O God, forsake me not! Amen. LSB 731:4.
Epiphany – 2019 LSB #’s 803, 801, 352
Text – Psalm 19:1
The heavens declare the glory of God, & the sky above proclaims His handiwork.
THE HEAVENS DECLARE
In 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope took a famous series of pictures of the Eagle Nebula, a cluster of approximately 460 stars nearly 7,000 light years away. In the midst of the nebula, Hubble captured a section which has been dubbed the “Pillars of Creation.”
The three massive columns “composed of interstellar hydrogen gas & dust are said to act as incubators for new stars” – literally a place where stars are born. Inside these columns & “on their surface astronomers have found knots or globules of denser gas, ‘Evaporating Gaseous Globules.’” It is thought that within these globules are the stars that are being formed.
In the book by C. S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader (from the Chronicles of Narnia series), young Eustace, a boy from our world, encounters a mysterious old man named Ramandu. He soon discovers the surprising fact that Ramandu is actually a retired star, living on an island in the east of the Narnian world after a lifetime of shining in the night sky.
“In our world,” says Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.” Ramandu replies, “[but] even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.”
Lewis makes a profound & important distinction here often lost on our culture today. Our scientists have been very good at determining what a thing is made of – whether that be stars or snakes, Sally or Sam – but that is certainly different than answering the questions who we are, what we are for, why we are here.
On the other hand, Holy Scripture says very little about what we are made of, but quite a lot to say about the creation in terms of who, what & why. So the Bible may not tell us what a star is made of in the way the Hubble Space Telescope can, but it certainly begins to tell us what a star is. In the very beginning, in Genesis, we learn that the stars have a meaning & purpose beyond the stuff they are made of: they are to light up the sky, they are to mark the seasons, they are to serve as signs or signals of God’s purposes.
Likewise, Psalm 19 ascribes further meaning to the celestial canopy: they declare God’s glory. Without voice or sound, they proclaim a message universal, from one end of the earth to the other. In the stars’ silvery light the beauty of God’s handiwork glimmers. The sun spreads the warmth of its life-giving rays over all the earth.
The deeper we peer into the vastness & mystery of space, the greater our wonder & the more profound the heavenly message. Truly, whether in night or day, the firmament reveals the glory of our Creator. In the words of the poet, Joseph Addison, “[the heavens] all rejoice, & utter forth a glorious voice, forever singing, as they shine, ‘The Hand that made us is Divine.’”
The psalm then moves on to speak about another source of revelation, the Torah Adonai, the Word of God. In it our being & purpose are made known. We are made of cells & atoms, patterned on strands of DNA, but our identity is as creatures who live & move, by & for the Word of God. The only way we can change our identity is to reject God as our Father.
Through His word, God revives the soul, makes wise the simple, gives joy to the heart, & enlightens the eyes. His word is perfect & pure; right & true. Through it God made all things, & by it He guides our lives into that which is more beautiful than the finest gold – that which is sweeter than the sweetest honey: the great reward of life with God.
Reading on, suddenly the psalm changes themes. So disruptive are the next verses to the flow of the psalm that some scholars have thought it to be an entirely different psalm added on at a later date. But the disruption does not lie in the psalm itself nor in its author, it lies with us. The psalm has something more to say about who we are. It reveals what we cannot fully understand or grasp: “Who can discern his errors?” the psalmist cries. We are creatures that have been gifted with the Word of God – a word that warns us of error, yet the psalmist declares that we are so full of errors we can hardly perceive the extent or the breadth of it.
For the psalmist, the fullness of our faults lie hidden; we are unaware of the depth of our sin. Outwardly, we may appear rather decent, but who we are has been deeply marred by sin.
Sinners are people fundamentally estranged from the Creator & creation. We are a people presumptuous in our dealings with one another with a preference for self-made identities, rather than the beauty & sweetness of what God desires to make us by His Word.
Nevertheless, the psalmist is not without hope. Having the Torah Adonai, the instruction & the teaching, the precepts & the promises of Yahweh, the estranged are not cut off. As St. Paul explained in Romans 3, the advantage of Israel lay in this fact: they “were entrusted with the oracles of God.”
The psalmist, struck by the sweetness of God’s word, in contrast to his own errors & faults, prays for forgiveness, for a declaration of innocence. He prays that he would be as God created him to be – free from the dominion of sin. It is a prayer made in hope yet without a clear answer. But today is Epiphany, & Epiphany is about the answer.
Epiphany is when the heavens declare the glory of God anew, & it’s the glory of His new creation. Epiphany is when the word of God moves beyond just Israel & in to the rest of the world. Epiphany is when a new identity for humanity is ushered in: the estranged are brought near, the foreigner becomes friend, the sinner receives a declaration of innocence.
In the Gospel reading we encountered the journey of the magi, led by an incredible star to encounter a prophetic word that directs them to the Word incarnate. It is a remarkable unfolding of the theme of Psalm 19, but on a scale that could not have been imagined heretofore. The stars, created for signs & seasons, shine now as harbingers for a new & eternal spring. The beauty & sweetness of God’s word is now sought & recognized in a child, worthy of sweet smelling incense & precious gold.
In this baby these strangers to God’s word find a new identity: ‘…neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, but all are one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28).
A poem by T. S. Eliot called “Journey of the Magi,” was written as a recollection of one of these eastern travelers. It speaks of the hardness of the journey, the sharp cold, the winter weather, & their regret (at the time), for what they had left behind… all in order to find who-knows-what. But in the last stanza the magi concludes:
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence & no doubt. I had seen birth & death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard & bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
The magi of Epiphany were the beginning of what Paul would call the “mystery hidden
for ages” (Ephesians 3:9), but now brought to light; namely “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6). This mystery of cosmic scope was the mystery of birth & death – the death of who we used to be as sinners – the birth of who we are now through the gospel of Yeshua. For the birth of Jesus was intended for His death, a death that would encompass the death of all sinners: “for one has died for all, therefore all have died” (1 Corinthians 5:12). And all this was so that in His resurrection we might be born again to life with God.
The good news of who we are in Christ does not stop there. Like the glory declared by the heavens, this news is to “go out through all the earth… [its] words to the end of the world.” Like the sun which shines from one end of the earth to the other, so shall nothing be hidden from the light of this gospel.
Like the psalmist, we pray that in the telling, our minds & our mouths would please God, filled with His word so that we may declare the Lord as foundation & savior of all creation: our Strength & our Redeemer. So let it be for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the works Thy hand hath made, I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed. But when I think that God, His Son not sparing, sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in – that on the cross my burden gladly bearing He bled & died to take away my sin. When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation & take me home, what joy shall fill my heart! Then I shall bow in humble adoration & there proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!” Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee, how great Thou art! How great Thou art! LSB 801:1, 3-4.
 Ode, by Joseph Addison, 1672‒1719.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet