Epiphany "The Birth of Jesus Had an Impact on Everyone" Sermon Matthew 2:1-12
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church / Rev. Ted A. Giese / WASCANA Circuit of Central District of Lutheran Church Canada Epiphany Service January 6th 2014 / Matthew 2:1-12 ESV
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. It all started much earlier, before Jesus was born, it started in Rome: It started in the Senate, it started rather suddenly with a vote; his friend Mark Antony, Cleopatra's lover, had made a passionate appeal, hands were raised, voices called out and "Herod the Great, as he's now called," became king of Judea. Herod "was wealthy, politically gifted, intensely loyal, an excellent administrator, clever, ... his famine relief [work] was superb and his building projects [were] admired even by his foes." Yet he, as the years added one on top of the other, grew more and more wicked and troubled, his love of power grew, he "inflicted incredibly heavy taxes on the people," and something burned a hole in his heart, Herod, "resented the fact that many of the Jews considered him a usurper." He knew, and they knew, that he hadn't come by the throne honestly, that it wasn't really his to sit on, it belonged to another, and that hands raised in Rome didn't truly determine who the King of God's People would be, who the King of the Jews would be, military might didn't make it yours either.
To live a life of ambition always waiting for the other shoe to drop took its toll; maybe the Senate in Rome would change its mind, maybe a new Emperor would change his mind, maybe one of Herod's sons would try to take the throne from him, at least two of them were born of his wife Mariamne the Hasmonean princess who was an honest to goodness Jewish descendant of the Maccabeans who had defied the Greeks. You see Herod wasn't even Jewish, Herod was an Edomite a descendant of Esau, Jacob's older brother, the people of Jerusalem didn't sing Hosanna as Herod rode into town, the gates did not lift up their mighty heads to receive Herod as king with joyful songs of praise. As that younger man with the blessings of the Roman Senate, he'd come with force to depose a ruling Jewish king and after 5 bitter months of fighting Herod had taken Jerusalem with the aid of some 11 legions of soldiers and 6000 horsemen.
By a political twist of fate Herod had been the right man, in the right place, at the right time, as he stood in the Senate chamber all those years ago in Rome and for over 30 years Herod had clung onto his ill-gotten kingship and then one day, "behold, wise men [Magi] from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd My people Israel.’”
Herod was many things, but he was no Shepherd King, he didn't have one drop of David's blood in his body and if Herod had ever know it, he'd lost all sense of what mercy looked like. Even in his late sixties Herod was like a kind of a goliath, a massive power opposed to God. He may have re-built the Temple in Jerusalem but he was not a man after God's Own Heart as King David had been. Herod was not like David's son Solomon either. And now a boy was coming out of Bethlehem to oppose him, what was Herod to do?
What is anyone to do when they are faced with the birth of Jesus? The Birth of Jesus is not just for the Jewish people. The Birth of Jesus had an impact on everyone, on the non-Jewish Herod the Great, on the Roman Empire that Herod served, on the descendants of Esau Jacob's older brother and on these men from the east who sought to find a child king. The Birth of Jesus has an impact on you, you who live a world away, removed by time from the goings on of the world into which Jesus was born. Epiphany is a celebration of the fact that Jesus was not just for the Jewish people, Jesus was and is the Saviour of the Nations, Jesus is for you and for your friends and neighbours, your loved ones and for all people everywhere. It is not just that God was born a man, but that this same man, Jesus, is God to the Whole world. This Child is the Christ, the Messiah.
When Herod had sent the Magi to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the Child, and when you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship Him,” Herod's intentions were not noble, on hearing of this Child Herod was already plotting to kill Jesus as Herod had killed many people who stood in Herod's way before. The Magi were looking for a king, Herod was the one who presupposed that this was no ordinary king but that this Child was in fact the Christ. This troubled the darkness of his heart. How do you respond to the knowledge of Jesus when Jesus is revealed to you. When the Light who is Jesus is revealed to you?
As a baptised child of God you see this Christ Child coming and "you fling wide the portals of your heart!" But the Old Adam in you has all the sinful desires of Herod, and your Old Adam desires to cling not to the cross of Christ Jesus but rather your Old Adam desires to cling to what ill-gotten power the World has granted you, what measly lordship you've scratched out for yourself by plotting and taking advantage of the weakness of others. The Old Adam in you see Jesus coming and calls up the alarm, slams shut the gates and works to murder that Christ Child as quickly as possible so you can go about your life, the way you want to live it. "Master of the house, keeper of the zoo," which is your sin, that darkly painted menagerie hanging about your neck like a millstone dragging you to the depths of the chaotic sea of this World.
This little Child is "the Light [which] has come into the world, and" as Saint John in his Gospel says, "people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil." Jesus is the enemy of sin: Jesus is the foe of evil; beneath Jesus' foot the Devil's head is crushed and darkness gives way to light. The Child whose birth was heralded by the light of the star, once He was fully grown, says, “I Am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” This light burns bright from the pregnant womb of Mary, to the blood stained cross of Calvary, to the empty tomb of Easter Morning.
This Light was for Herod the Great, and this Light is for you. Some like Herod reject the Light retreating even further into deep darkness, but for you, who are being saved, Jesus and His cross is the power of God over sin, death, the devil, the world and over your own sinful flesh, over your own Old Adam and all his scheming and murderous plotting.
The Magi, these foreign pagan magicians, enchanters and sorcerers, were unlikely individuals to be looking for Jesus. Who were they? They were not kings themselves, this idea became popular some six hundred years after Matthew wrote his Gospel, and interestingly the Magi were not even considered truly wise by Christians until "the Enlightenment and on into the modern period," it's only been recently the case that people considered them to be "regarded positively as scholars and seekers after truth." In the Old Testament book of Daniel the Magi were never wise, they were unable to interpret the dream of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, it was Daniel a Jewish noble forced into the ranks of the Magi who was wise enough by God's grace to know and interpret Nebuchadnezzar's dream. The Magi then because of Daniel may have had, passed down to them through the centuries, some knowledge of Jewish prophecy, but they came looking for a king, they didn't come looking for the Christ. God intervened in their story. Their lives were spared after meeting the Child Jesus by a warning given by God to them in a dream. They didn't go back to tell Herod where the Child could be found.
The Magi are not unlike many people in our world, they have had some knowledge of who Jesus is passed down to them over the centuries but they do not truly know who Jesus is. They still need the light of a start to guide them to the House where the Child can be found, they still need an intervention from God to keep them from death once they been brought to the Child.
Let me further allegorize this for you: if this was a parable of the world today. The Magi would be that spiritual seeker that you know in your life, the kind of person who says 'I'm Spiritual but not too religious,' the sort who prefers to organize their own spiritual system. They seem wise and knowledgeable yet they are lost and in deep darkness without Jesus. You are the star that guides their way to the House where the Child is to be found. The House is the Church where Jesus is preached and where His gifts more precious than frankincense and myrrh and gold are found, Baptism, Holy Communion and the Forgiveness of Sins in the words of the Absolution. Herod represents all that is opposed to Jesus. Without God's intervention the gifts of Christ, the Church, the Children of God of whom you are one, and all who might become God's Children like these Magi would be swallowed up by Herod and destroyed.
At the dawn of the season of Epiphany remember the words of Jesus, "We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; [for] night is coming, when no one can work." Guide the ones called wise by the World into the true Wisdom who is Jesus, this Christ Child. In thought, word and deed be the light which draws them to God's House, speak words of warning to them to save them from a world that hates Jesus, and rejoice exceedingly with great joy along side of them as they come to know the Jesus you have long trusted in. A Jesus who was not made king by a vote in Rome, a Savour who comes not by force with 11 legions of soldiers and 6,000 horseman to storm the walls of your heart; Rather the season of Epiphany tells you of a boy, a man, God with us Who comes not to inflicted incredibly heavy taxes on His people but Who comes rather to "save His people from their sins.”
The wicked Herod the great had no knowledge of the Christ Child until it was revealed to him; the Magi, likewise weren't so wise; if they hadn't had it revealed to them they would never have found the Christ Child based on the knowledge they had apart from God's revelation. You too would have been lost in darkness if the light of Christ Jesus was not directly shared with you. As Christians you are free to reveal Jesus to the Nations, to people near and far, to people right here in Regina Saskatchewan in Canada in our circuit: They will not know of this Christ Child unless He is revealed to them, they will not believe in Him until God's Word is given to them, spoken to them, preached to them, shown to them. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Antiquity of The Jews: Works of Josephus, Volume III, Book XIV, Chapter XIV, Baker Book House 1988, pg 333.
 Concordia Commentary Matthew 1:1-11:1 Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Concordia Publishing House 2006, pg 122.
 According to Josephus Herod the Great was the son (Antiquity of The Jews: Works of Josephus, Volume III, Book XIV, Chapter IX, pg 301) of a certain Antipater an Idumean (Antiquity of The Jews: Works of Josephus, Volume III, Book XIV, Chapter I, pg 278) and the Idumeans were "the posterity of Esau" (Antiquity of The Jews: Works of Josephus, Volume III, Book XII, Chapter VIII, pg 192), which makes Herod the Great a descendant of Esau and not a descendant of Jacob who received the birthright and through whom King David was promised by God that, "[God] shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of [David's] kingdom forever." 2 Samuel 7:13.
 Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House 2006, Hymn 340 "Lift Up Your Heads Ye Mighty Gates" Stanza 1.
 Antigonus II Mattathias the last of the Hasmonean Kings: Who in the end was beheaded by Herod's friend Mark Antony. Plutarch the Roman Historian in his book Life of Anthony claims that this was the "the first example of that punishment being inflicted on a king." Plutarch's Lives: Volume 2 of 2, Plutarch, A Digireads.com Book, The Dryden Translation, 2009, pg 370.
 Antiquity of The Jews: Works of Josephus, Volume III, Book XIV, Chapter XVI, pg 344-45.
 Herod became King of Judea in 40/39 B.C. (by that Roman Senatorial vote) and King by force some 3 years later in 37/36 B.C. "Modern scholarship places the death of Herod with a fair amount of confidence in 4 B.C." which means, "Jesus will have been born in 6 B.C. at the earliest, and perhaps in 5 B.C." Concordia Commentary Matthew 1:1-11:1, pg 115.
 Acts 13:22
 Isaiah 60:1-6
 In The Fullness of Time: A Historians Look at Christmas, Easter and the Early Church, Paul L. Maier, Kregel Publications 1997, pg 64-5.
 Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House 2006, Hymn 340 Stanza 4.
 Matthew 18:6
 John 3:19
 "The LORD God said to the serpent ... I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” Genesis 3:14-15, and who is this serpent? "the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan"Revelation 20:2
 John 8:12
 Romans 5:12-18
 Concordia Commentary Matthew 1:1-11:1, pg 124.
 Daniel 1:1-7
 Daniel 2:1-16
 Revelation 12
 John 9:4
 1 Corinthians 1:30
 Matthew 1:23
 Matthew 1:21