Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Pleasant Dale, Nebraska
"At Home in the House of Our Lord"
The Epiphany of Our Lord (transferred)
St. Matthew 2:1-12
January 3, 2010
IN NOMINE JESU
I am going to make a wild guess as we begin our meditation this morning. I am boldly guessing that most of us did not travel too far over the past couple of weeks. Remember, it's only a hunch, backed up by about two feet of snow and snow drifts about five to ten times as high. For a lot of us, our travel plans for Christmas were significantly altered or even canceled altogether. Many of us could not even get out of our driveways, and we were not able to receive guests for Christmas dinner. Just think of how powerful the last two blizzards were. We were unable to get out our doors or driveways, unable to go to the neighbors' place, unable to get into town, and unable to come to the Lord's house to celebrate His birth.
I would not want to wager a guess about the travel conditions the Wise Men faced. They came from the East, how far we do not know. We know little of the weather conditions they faced, but we can surmise that the night sky was clear enough for them to follow the star that led them to the Christchild. We don't know how they got to Jerusalem. They certainly did not have a car, but they were all of one accord in that they wanted to worship the King of the Jews. They even knew the word of the prophet Micah, that the Child was to be found in Bethlehem. The Wise Men had a special revelation of the Christ, revealed to them by a star, a star that led them west to the holy town of Bethlehem, holy for the Lord Himself dwelt there in the house of His mother. It was a unique occasion: this was one of the last times the Lord would be revealed by means other than His Means of Grace, His Word and Sacraments. Paul writes in our Epistle that this mystery has now been revealed by the Holy Spirit to the prophets and apostles. Why was the mystery of the Incarnation revealed to them? The Holy Spirit gave them to know of this blessed mystery so that they would proclaim it to the whole people of God…and to those outside the communion of saints so that they too would believe in Christ. The Holy Spirit caused the prophets to proclaim the coming of the Messiah in human flesh, just as Isaiah had told King Ahaz that "the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel" (Is. 7:14b). The chief priests and scribes remembered for King Herod the Great the words of the prophet Micah, as we heard in our text. Thus we hear the Word being revealed to the king. What we behold this day is that, for the Word to be revealed, it must be preached, and you are the blessed recipients of this Word this day, as it is preached in your hearing. How best to do this is to be here in the house of the Lord to receive Him who comes to you this day in His Word and in His body and blood. That is the simple task of the Christian: to receive His gifts with thanksgiving and praise. We receive, for we are His guests. Christ, the divine Liturgist, is our Host, for we are in His house, and He invites us to gladly receive His forgiveness, His eternal life, and His salvation. He invites us to be at home in the house of our Lord.
The Wise Men went to the house of the Lord, as He led them by a star. We are here in the house of the Lord, as He leads us by His Holy Spirit. They responded to the Lord by offering Him gifts, just as we will respond in a few moments with our offerings. Like the Wise Men did, we respond to our Lord, His presence, and His goodness with gifts, whether they are of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, or of our time, talents, and treasure. When we are invited to someone's house for dinner, it is common courtesy for us to ask if our hosts would like us to bring anything. The Psalmist bids us to the same in the Gradual appointed for the Epiphany season: "Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His Name; bring an offering, and come into His courts!" (Ps. 96:8). Come into His courts! Come into His house! Come to hear Him speak tidings of comfort and great joy! Come to His Table to eat His body and drink His blood! Come and be at home, here in the house of our Lord!
But this is not a place where we always want to be. I am not speaking of our inability to be here over the last two weeks on account of the snow. I am speaking of a deliberate disdain for being here. Perhaps it is a squabble with our neighbor, a brother or sister in Christ, that has soured our mood. Maybe it was a dispute over something said in a sermon or a Bible class years or even decades ago. Could it be that we are still upset because the church had one color of carpet installed when we wanted another? Whatever the reason is, there is something that keeps our hearts from wanting to be at home in the house of the Lord. There is a reason; there is something that keeps our hearts from wanting to be here. It is sin. It is the sin in, into, and with which we were conceived and born. It is this same sin we inherited from Adam and Eve, who ate of that divinely-forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. It is this same sin that moved Herod to attempt to deceive the Wise Men in telling him where the Christchild would be, under the false premise—the lie—of going to worship Him as well. It is this same sin that would have us despise preaching and God's Word…and would not have us gladly hear and learn it. It is this same sin, which, in league with the devil and this unbelieving world, that would seek to lure us away from here, to keep us from hearing the Word of God and keeping it, to keep us from receiving all the good things our Lord has to offer us in His Word and Sacraments, to keep us from being at home in the house of the Lord. Sin is what makes God a stranger to us. Everything the Old Adam says and does shows that we want nothing to do with Him or His gifts. Yet we don't like to say we have sinned, but "if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 Jn. 1:8). While there is plenty of snow on the ground outside, we are snowing ourselves plenty if we convince ourselves that we are really pretty good people who just make bad choices, like Herod did in ordering the slaughter of all the infant boys in Bethlehem, like we do in choosing to remain away from the house of the Lord.
There is a connection between our meditation and the Gospel for this Sunday in the church year: the Second Sunday after Christmas. In this particular Gospel reading, Mary, Joseph, and the boy Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Passover. When His parents went to return home, He remained in the temple, listening to the rabbis, asking them questions, and answering their questions. When Mary asked Him why He did this, staying behind in the temple, He answered and said, "Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house?" (Lk. 2:49). What is the connection? Both speak of being at home in the house of the Lord. The boy Jesus was most definitely at home in the house of His Father—His heavenly Father. There is not greater place to be than in the house of the Lord, for it is here that the Lord reveals Himself to you through His Means of Grace. This is His epiphany—His revelation—to you, a greater revelation than even that first Epiphany, when the Christchild was revealed to the Gentiles in the persons of the Wise Men. It is greater even for us because of what this Child did as He grew "in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man" (Lk. 2:52). His favor with God the Father was so great that He would no longer be in that house in Bethlehem where the Wise Men worshiped Him, no longer in that house of the temple, for the Temple was his very body that He would give for the life of the world, for you and for me. His favor with His Father was so great that He would no longer be in the holy city of Jerusalem, cast outside the city walls to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, where He would be crucified, where He would bleed, and where He would die in our place, to shepherd His people Israel—Christ, the Good Shepherd, laying down His life for His sheep, for you and for me! He laid down His life, giving His body and shedding His blood from the altar of the cross, the very same body and blood He gives you from the altar of this His house for the forgiveness of all your sins. His journey is much greater than what we would have had at Christmas, much greater than the Wise Men had coming from the East, for the Lord Himself came down from heaven, took on human flesh, was born, crucified, dead, buried, risen, and ascended into heaven and still comes down to us today in the Divine Service in the reading and preaching of His Word and in His holy Supper. All this He has done for you willingly, so that you would receive the gifts from your heavenly and yet incarnate Host, so that you would indeed be at home in the house of the Lord and one day in our heavenly home into all eternity. Until that Day, may the words of the Psalmist, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, be our words, our prayers as well:
"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever" (Ps. 23:6);
and again: "O LORD, I love the habitation of your house and the place where Your glory dwells" (Ps. 26:8);
and again: "One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple" (Ps. 27:4).
God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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