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Epiphany, January 6, 2018 - St. Matthew 2:1-12

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Posted: Saturday, January 6th, 2018 by Pastor Westgate

“Behold, the Lord, the Ruler, hath come: and the kingdom and the power and the glory are in His hand.” These words, our Introit Antiphon, were composed by the Church long ago to hymn our Lord’s Epiphany. They are inspired by the Psalms and Revelation. They confess that this Child Mary bore is no mere mortal, but God in our flesh.

This is what the Magi confessed. These wise men, these astrologers, these, could they really be, magicians, trekked out from Babylon or Persia or Arabia and crossed the desert to worship Mary’s Child. How strange this seems. If President Trump’s daughter gave birth, you wouldn’t go to New York City or Washington, DC to see the child. You’d see him on TV or on the net, but you wouldn’t fall before him, and you most certainly wouldn’t give them gifts, well, at least not gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Yet these pagan Gentiles did all that. Were they crazy? They had no vested interest in Him. They weren’t brought up in the religion of the Jews. Rather they were practitioners of things this very Child told Israel through Moses to NEVER do. There may or may not have been 3 of them, and they weren’t kings, but they were highly involved in the pagan religions of the lands east of Israel. They had no business going to see the King of the Jews. No wonder Herod was troubled! This talk of a rival King troubled him, but that it was spoken by people the chief priests and scribes said should have nothing to do with Israel just made it worse!

But come they did. They boldly and naively marched into Herod’s throne room wondering where the newborn King was. Did they think He was in that palace? How they must have been surprised when poor old sick Herod was shocked into fear. Were they expecting a throne filled by a little boy? They found somebody known for killing his family if he feared – even unjustly – they were becoming his rivals. It was so bad Augustus quipped he’d rather be Herod’s pig than his son; after all Herod couldn’t eat pig because he was a Jewish proselyte, and I’m sure he was quite happy to be Herod’s Cæsar instead.

But Herod played nice. He got the chief priests and scribes to tell him where this Child should be. Then he sent the Magi off to serve as his spies. He wanted them to find the Child, take all the notes they could about Him and where He was, and come back to report it all. He claimed He would go worship Him, but he really intended to send his soldiers to assassinate Him.

The Magi came to worship Him. The word St. Matthew uses means to prostrate before Him. They wanted to fall before Him, flat on their faces. They came to worship Him with not just their souls, minds, and words, but with their bodies. They came to give Him not just their treasures, but themselves. They came to repent of their sins and to confess Him King of the world, God Who hears prayer, Man Who would die for our sins. They came to reject their paganism, to confess God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God. So that’s what they did.

This gives us the opportunity to talk about some of the things I do at the Altar. For example you see me bow or cross myself; you also see me go down to a knee. What’s the purpose of these things? Many of us, myself included, didn’t grow up with them. The only kneeling done was for confession in the pews or at the rail for communion. The pastor made signs of the cross over the people for absolution and benediction and over the elements at consecration, but that was all. So why do I go to a knee or cross myself? (These are all things you may do as well. You may kneel when I do or cross yourself when I cross myself.) Why do them? Is it just because they’re really ancient practices? Is it just to look pretty? Or is there something more to it?

The things we do in church are supposed to teach us about Christ. The vestments teach us the minister is here not because he appointed himself, but because Christ sent him. We sing a lot because we will sing praises to God a lot in heaven. We kneel to show humility due to our sins. But we also kneel to show humility before our Creator. We can only receive Him when we are humble, after all. He is the almighty power over heaven and earth. He is holy in triune majesty. It makes sense we should not act before Him the same way we act around each other. We should act with reverence and respect, reverence and respect far greater than what we give the president, whoever he is.

So I kneel. I kneel during The Creed because I, poor sinner that I am, don’t deserve for Him, my Creator, to have taken on my flesh. Luther talks about this as a practice he wanted to continue. He even told a story about how the devil smacked somebody who didn’t, saying if Christ would have become like him he surely would have repented and fallen on his knees. When I do it at the Consecration, it’s for the same reason you kneel at the rail – I don’t deserve to handle the very Body and precious Blood of my Savior, yet He has blessed me to eat and drink Him and to give Him to you.

I bow my head, for instance when the holy Name of Jesus is said, because St. Paul says in Philippians that at His Name every knee shall bow; Psalm 95 tells us to kneel and bow before God too. The full bow during the first half of the Gloria Patri confesses God’s great glory. He is God. Not me. I don’t deserve to come before Him. I live and serve only by His grace.

I cross myself. This confesses that Jesus died on the cross for me, to save my own flesh from death in hell, to deliver me from evil, yes, from all evils past, present, and to come. It confesses that He desires to bless us with all His gifts, yes, with forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. It confesses that I believe He did these things for me, though all unworthy. It confesses that I am baptized, for the cross was first placed on you and me at the font.

These things are all confessions. They are part of our common Christian heritage. They all exist to proclaim and confess and show forth Christ’s glory. What is His glory? Is it just that He’s awesome beyond all our dreams? No. It’s this: He died for sinners. He died for you. He conquered sin and death. That is our Lord’s glory. That is what the Magi confessed this day when they gave Him their gifts and fell before Him.

So worship Him. If you wish to use ceremonies, good. If not, good. They simply intend to teach us to say: Yes, I am a poor miserable sinner worthy of eternal death but I am saved by Christ our God. They confess that after this life, those who believe in Him will have the fruition of His glorious Godhead. That is, we confess we shall see Him as He is and dwell with Him forever.

God is holy. God is glorious. Never forget that. Our worship should reflect that. It should also reflect what He has done for us. He gave Himself up for us. Now He calls us to give ourselves up for Him. He reveals Himself to us in His Word. May it ever lead us to life everlasting.

Categories: Pastor Westgate's Sermons

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