Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
Invocation: In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit, a blessed Epiphany to you all.
1. Today in our Gospel reading we see those beloved travelers, the Wise Men from the East. The Magi. They traveled a great distance for a single, solitary reason. They went so far, spent so much time on the road to see the One born the King of the Jews. Just how far did they go? While we don't know their exact route, or the number of miles they traveled, we do know they went a very long way. Sts. Mary and Joseph and the young Jesus had moved into a house in Bethlehem by the time they arrived. All the excitement of the census and the first Christmas were over by the time the Wise Men saw Jesus, so we know that physically, they traveled pretty far. But emotionally and spiritually they went pretty far, as well. They left their own homes and families and set out after the star. They risked life and limb on the way to Bethlehem, stopping first to visit with Herod in Jerusalem. They carried expensive gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh--all to see the newborn King of the Jews. All in fulfillment of the prophecy recorded in Numbers 24, revealed to Balaam while Israel was still wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt.
I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.
How far would would the wise men go to see the ruler risen out of Jacob? As far as the star would take them. As far as they had to go to worship the newborn king.
2. St. Matthew's gospel also shows us how far King Herod was willing to go. He didn't go to great lengths to see the Messiah, though. No, Herod went as far as he possibly could to destroy the Messiah. After the wise men come for a visit and ask about the one born King of the Jews, Herod gathers the chief priests and teachers of the Law to tell him where the Christ would be born. They read the Word of God to him from Micah, chapter 5.
[Micah 5:2/St. Matthew 2:6b]
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.
Having heard the Word of God, Herod attempts to deceive the Wise Men. He wants their assistance in his sinful lust for absolute power. Herod wants the Wise Men to help him hunt down the Messiah in order to kill him. When the angel warns the Wise Men about this, they go home by another route. So Herod takes matters into his own hands. He abuses the Scriptures. He tries to manipulate the will of God for his own gain. Selfishly, he uses the prophecy of Micah and tries to change salvation history. He sends a murdering horde into Bethlehem, turning them loose on the innocent children of the city; all in an attempt to kill the Christ-child. How far would Herod go? He'd go as far as the devil would take him in his sinful attempt to eradicate the Savior of all mankind.
3. And we can't forget about Mary and Joseph. They'd gone pretty far themselves. First, they traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the Roman census. They traveled, too, in fulfillment of Micah's prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. After the Wise Men visited them they went to Egypt, to protect Jesus, again, a fulfillment of the prophecies of God. St. Matthew tells us that this trip was to fulfill what the prophet Hosea had foretold:
. . . out of Egypt I have called my son.
When it was safe they came back home, eventually making their way back to Nazareth, and settling down. They went so long and so far all in service of Jesus. They traveled so much in love for their newborn Son, the Son of God. They went as far as they did out of devotion to Jesus, their Savior.
4. So, how far would you go? How far would you go to see the King of the Jews? Lots of folks here travel quite a way to get to church every Sunday. Some of you come from over half an hour away. Maybe today, you came even farther than that. But how far is the farthest you would go to see the Lord Jesus Christ? An hour or two? A day or two? Would you do like the Magi and make a round trip of a year or two for a short visit with the Lord? Would you pack your belongings, leave your job, your family, your spouse, everything you know and love just for a chance to bow down at the feet of Jesus? Eventually, the distance becomes to far, doesn't it? The demands become to great and we find that if it's just too far to go, we will sinfully forsake our devotion to Christ. Sinful creatures that we are, if push comes to shove, we won't go nearly as far as the Wise Men went to see Jesus. How far would you go? Not far enough. And that's a sin.
5. Or how far would you go in love, service and devotion to Christ, our King. How costly is your devotion to Christ? Would you still worship him if it meant you had to suffer for your beliefs? Do you offer him the gems of the mountains that you wear on your fingers and around your necks? Do you regularly bring the treasures of forest and mine that sit and gain interest in your bank account? Do you bring your gold, frankincense, and myrrh with you on Sunday mornings to lay before the Lord? Or do you leave it at home, safe and secure; all locked up where no one but you can get to it? Sinners that we are, it's easy to see that we don't go nearly as far as the wise men did in bringing their gifts to the One born King of the Jews. How far do you go in your devotion to Christ? How far are you willing to go in your service to Christ and his Church. How far will you go out of love for the Savior? As far as Mary and Joseph? Would you leave your country, even as our ancestors did to come here all for the sake of your faith and the grace of your Lord? I'd venture to say that many, if not all of us would say, "No." With heads bowed in embarrassment and souls shirking in sin, it's all too easy to answer the question: How far would you go to visit the Lord? Not far enough. And that's a sin.
6. Other trips, though, aren't nearly so hard to take. How far would you go to protect your status or your power? How far do you go in your imitation of King Herod, who went as far as possible to protect his earthly power? No doubt, we go too far. No, we don't send out murdering bands of soldiers to wipe out threats to our status, but with the words of our mouths we murder those who don't do things the way we think they should. With hatred in our hearts we crave power and don't think twice about pushing others out of the way if they happen to block our path to fame or fortune. And we protect our status symbols like nobody else on earth: We make sure our new cars are nice and shiny and parked outside where all can see. This time of the year especially we show off all the stuff we got for Christmas as if to say, "Hey, look how important I am." Obviously, when it comes to sinful protection of our earthly status, we sin by going much too far. When we ask ourselves, "How far would you go?" the answer is unfortunate: "We go just far enough to ensure that we get lost. Lost in darkness, lost in sin, lost on the way to our Savior Jesus Christ."
7. In St. Luke's gospel, chapter 19, Jesus says,
[St. Luke 19:10]
"For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost."
Thank God! Because we know how very lost we are. As we travel through life, we go way too far down the path of sin. We get lost in the alluring temptations of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. In love, devotion, and service to our Lord we don't go nearly far enough. We lose our way even when we try to do the honorable thing and commit our lives to the Lord. In our sin we are truly lost. We wander around in the darkness, in search of light that will lead us in the right direction, but it seems that we are helplessly lost. When we look up into the sky, we see lots of stars, but none of them guide us to Christ as the star showed the way to the Wise Men. And yet the words of Christ ring true: "For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost." He came as the Light of Light, very God of very God. He came to shine light on the path that will lead us back to God our Father. In his birth, in his ministry, in his Holy Word and Sacraments, Christ comes and says what Isaiah said before:
"Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you."
8. The Son of Man, Christ our Lord, has pierced the darkness of our sin-filled lives. His glory now shines upon us and his glory leads us out of our dark, death-destined, lives. By shining the light of his glory on us, Christ declares that he has gone as far as he needs to go to save us from our sin. How far did Christ go? He went so far in his humility as to leave the side of his father in heaven and come down to earth in the flesh. He went so far in his divine empathy as to be baptized by St. John the Baptist and become one of us, for the sake of our salvation. He went so far in his dedication as to struggle with the devil in the desert and defeat every temptation he's ever laid in front of men. He went so far in his zeal for the lost as to preach with compassion, heal with mercy, and listen with grace to the people of Judah, Samaria and Galilee. He went so far in his saving grace as to suffer death on the cross for being God of God and Light of Light. He went so far in in his obedience to the Father that he willingly gave up his life, and was carried into the depths of the tomb. From there he went so far in victory that he traveled to hell itself to declare to Satan that the victory belongs to the Light of the World, and not to the prince of darkness. Christ then came out of the tomb and then he went so far above the clouds that he entered into the glory of God the Father, and took a seat at his powerful right hand. How far does Christ go? Farther than the wise men did. Farther than you or I will ever go. Christ, and only Christ, goes far enough: far enough in his incarnation to come down to earth to meet us, because our sin will not let us go the distance to come to him ourselves. Jesus goes far enough in being a servant to forgive our sinful seeking of status and remind us that true wealth comes from the gifts of God. Jesus goes far enough in love and devotion for the Father to seek us out; far enough in heavenly grace to save us every time we get lost in the downward spiral of sin. Jesus, only Jesus goes so far as to shine his heavenly light on us and give us all these gift of these gospel blessings together with his own body and blood. The body of the young boy the Wise Men saw--Jesus gives us that body in the sacrament of the Altar. The blood that flowed through his veins--Jesus gives us that blood. Jesus Christ, the Light of the World that lights our way, goes so far to save every sinner in the world. He goes so far to save you for himself.
9. Strengthened in our faith by these blessings of Christ, we can answer our original question: How far will we go? With Christ we will go all the way to eternal life in heaven. With Christ we will come to his altar and repent of our sins and hear his words that bring us forgiveness. With Christ, we will hear his Word from the Bible and learn of all the saints who traveled to his feet like the Wise Men of old did in Bethlehem. With Christ we, will come to his altar and behold the Body and Blood of the Lord. We will gaze upon Christ's body and blood in bread and wine and know we eat and drink the very same Christ the Wise Men saw on the first Epiphany. With Christ, we'll travel back to our seats comforted and confident that by the miracle of his birth and the gift of forgiveness we'll go far away from the devil. With Christ, we will go far away from sin. With Christ we will travel into the blessings of holiness, righteousness, and blessedness that knows no end in the kingdom of heaven itself. With Christ, we will leave this building and go as far as our lives will take us, devoted to our Lord; serving our brothers and sisters in love, and traveling all the while in the glorious light of Christ our Lord. Every where we go, in this life, and the next, we will go with Christ, who has gone before us into heavenly glory. He has promised to take our hands and lead us along life's way. He has promised to be a lamp unto our feet and light on our path. He has promised to go with us every step along the way, and in the end to take us to be with him where he is. No matter where we go, we will go with Christ who has promised us in his Holy Word:
I will never leave you nor forsake you.
So how far will you go? With Christ, we'll go all the way to our glorious heavenly home. In his name, Amen.
Blessing: The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Keith R. Weise
January 4, 2008
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