The star appeared. The Scripture literally says that it was manifested, the same word from which we get the name “epiphany” for this day and season. But epiphany is about more than a star appearing. Christ epiphanied Himself, that is, He has been manifested among us.
Keep in mind that Christ does not simply appear, but He reveals Himself to specific people, and leads us to Him. He must call us to Himself out of the darkness of our sinfulness and the darkness of this world. He leads us to Himself and says, “Here I am. Here is where to find Me,” as He did with the Magi and the star.
We perhaps do not grasp how earth-shattering it was for the Jews to hear that the Lord had called gentile wise men to Himself. Saint Matthew’s Gospel was written particularly to Jews. For them to hear that God had flung open the doors of His grace to non-Jews must have been shocking.
Christ did not call the Magi to come and then had an angel said, “Okay, over there is the Christ Child. But before you can worship Him, you must first become Jews.” No, Christ accepted their worship as is. He accepted the gifts they offered.
Meanwhile, what were the Jews in the story doing? Mary and Joseph were still by Jesus’ side. But the chief priests and the scribes did not go, although they were supposed to be the ones who were faithful to the Word of God. Herod obviously did not go, for all that he pretended that he wanted to worship the Child. The people of Jerusalem were troubled by the news of the Wise Men and their search for Him who is born King of the Jews. They also did not go.
What reasons did they have for not going? Fear, probably. The people did not want to provoke Herod’s wrath.
Herod probably had a mixture of ignorance and jealousy for his own throne. He recognized that this was Messiah, but could not seem to understand that the Messiah did not come to establish an earthly kingdom.
The scribes and chief priests knew the Scriptures best, yet did not go. Were they afraid? Or, perhaps more likely, were they already entrapped in a self-righteous religion? If so, they would be self-satisfied and full of their own virtue, instead of filled with a hunger for the righteousness and mercy that the Christ Child was bringing. They would feel no urgency to fall down before the Baby Savior.
God gave them all a reminder that He had sent His Christ in human flesh to be the Shepherd of His people Israel. These very words were spoken in Herod’s hearing, out of the mouth of the same chief priests and scribes who later did not go to Bethlehem. But God wanted them to come to Him. He strongly desired that they come to Him and receive His grace. But they did not.
Were there other reasons? Perhaps some of them had jobs that got in the way. Perhaps some of them had planned a hunting trip that weekend. Perhaps some of them needed more time with family. Perhaps some did not want to make the long journey, although it really was not far to Bethlehem. Were some tired from a busy weekend? Did some feel like they had gone to church enough this month, so another time was not important?
Christ says to them, and to us: “Here I am. Here is where to find Me.”
Do we eagerly, hungrily come to this place? Are we happy to fall down and worship Him consistently? Or do we easily find excuses to miss His coming, time after time?
You may be wondering: “Why are you being so hard on us, Pastor? Here we are on a weekday night. That’s dedication! We are not the ones who need to hear this.”
We all need to hear it. I need to hear it. Because as soon as we say, “I don’t need to hear it,” then we have said that we don’t need the Christ Child. We are saying that we don’t need the forgiveness in His Blood.
Even when you are in the pew, your flesh is squirming and seeking for ways to ignore or reject or rationalize why this worship is not as good as it should be. You may be present physically, like the high priests were constantly at the Temple. But you, like them, may forget that the whole point of the Temple is the presence of Christ, not our obedience. When you know that Christ is here, that must be the overriding factor that drives you to come here and fall on your knees.
Here He is. He is the One who answers our need. He is worthy of our worship, for He is a king who receives the royal gift of gold. He is more than man, for He is the true God, worthy that incense be burned before Him. He is the Sacrifice who gives Himself into death, who is born for dying, as the myrrh for embalming testifies.
He is the One. How far should we travel to meet this King? What distance would be too much? What plans are too important to cancel to meet Him? How low should we abase ourselves? How much should we sacrifice for this Man who sacrificed all for us?
If not for Him, we would be traveling from darkness into darkness. If not for the preservation by His Spirit, we would wander away from the light into darkness again.
Our sacrifices are never enough. The Rocky Mountains turned to gold would not be enough homage for this King. Even if it were somehow possible to offer enough, our sinfulness taints each offering we give.
But He accepts them nonetheless. He receives our pale, paltry gifts as if they were the glory of heaven. In His eyes, that is what they are, since He covers all our efforts with His holiness.
So He covers our lives with His own. He calls us His people because we have our identity in Him, in His life and death and resurrection. He names us Israel because He has chosen us to be His brothers and sisters.
Will we get tired of worshiping Him? Will we get bored because we forget the reason for this House? The reason is Christ who is here. The reason is the gifts He gives. Our gifts are overshadowed with His gigantic outpouring of grace and mercy. He gives you here all the benefits that His death earned. He claims you as His subjects because He has paid the price for your citizenship in His kingdom. There is nothing better than that, because His citizens live forever with Him.
So your lives are safe in Him, and you are able to make extravagant, amazing offerings to Him. Not just money – gold is only one gift. The incense of your prayers ascends to Him, for you are all priests of God. Also you give your lives as you carry your crosses. For you are kings in the image of the King, so you must be the same kind of king as He. You must suffer with Him here below before you enjoy glory with Him in heaven.
Long ago, the Baby was worshiped as they fell down before Him. The tiny, humble form was recognized as Christ, the King. Here we bow down, perhaps even kneel, before the same King. Although hidden, He is the glorious God who gave His life even for us Gentiles. Us heathens who are unworthy and not even His kin He has redeemed to be His family.
No grace could be greater than this.
In His Name, who is here, who has given all for you. Amen.
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