Delivered at Grace Lutheran Church. This is from January 4, 2009 and was preached on Isaiah 60:1-6. The Epiphany of our Lord. Adapted from a Concordia Pulpit Resources sermon from Rev. Dr. Kenneth Korby.
I. It is God’s grace that draws worshipers as it did when the star led the Wise Men to Christ.
II. The call of God’s grace, the Gospel, shines on us to create his Church
III. The Church herself is to arise and shine by carrying the Gospel to the world.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the peace of the Christ-child be with you. Amen.
I once heard an interesting remark about the celebration of Epiphany and the church year: Epiphany is God showing us His Son, Jesus, baptized to the the Christ. What follows is the season of Lent, and in Lent this Suffering Son, Jesus, shows us the Father. Again, in Epiphany the Father shows us the Son, and in Lent, the Son shows us the Father.
Epiphany is indeed the manifestation, the showing, the unfolding — or, if you will, God unwrapping for us his Christmas gift to us. When you receive a gift, you say “Thank you” to the giver. You open the gift and look at it. Then you use the gift in accord with its purpose: if clothes, you wear them, if a toy, you play with it; if food, you eat it.
So with God’s Christmas gift — a gift different from all others, for in this gift God gives us himself, his heart and mind, his good will and love, his mercy and unflinching determination to make us his special people forever!
Our thanks to God have filled our adoration during these days of Christmas. And today as we celebrate the Epiphany, we see the beginning of God’s unwrapping his gift and how we are to use that gift in accord with the Gift and the Giver.
God says to you, “Your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” By the light of the star, the Wise Men were led to the light, to walk no longer in the darkness of their house gods, their cultural gods, their science gods, their self-contrived gods, but to walk in the light — in Jesus Christ. By the light of God’s Gospel, you are led to the light, to walk in the light. Arise! Shine! Your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.
Intelligent and learned, based on the general knowledge of the created world and (perhaps) knowledge of God’s promises carried to Babylon at the time of Israel’s exile, the Wise Men looked for Jesus in Jerusalem. It was reasonable the King of the Jews had been born in Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews. But Jerusalem was not the place God had chosen to unwrap his gift of salvation to all the world.
Instead, when their intelligence and learning were brought into captivity to the Holy Scriptures, the Wise Men were led to follow the star to Bethlehem, to the Child in whom God was pleased to give Himself in the fullness of grace and truth. The star, illuminated by the Holy Scriptures, led them to the star!
The gifts of intelligence and learning, of the love of wisdom, of integrity and boldness in scholarship, are gifts of the good God, the giving God. But it is in his grace in Jesus that he gives himself in the real work of his Fatherly heart and mind. It is this grace of God that draws worshipers to himself, for by his grace God creates faith in us, faith that worships him by receiving his grace in Jesus.
Today’s celebration of Epiphany is about the call of God’s grace reaching out to your eyes and ears — and to the eyes and ears of millions of believers around the globe. The Gospel of his glory, sung by the angels at Christmas, is preached to you this day, in this place. His call is to come to worship him. In that Gospel he welcomes you, he invites you, to come to this One born in Bethlehem — the house of bread. In your ears he sounds the words that knock at the eardrums of your heart, inviting you to see him in his body, this Jesus who presents himself to us. This altar is his manger – his feed box, not for cows or sheep or donkeys, but for his poor sinners, lost, troubled in the darkness of a world that neither knows nor fears nor loves him.
The heart of God is openly displayed in this Jesus, born of Mary, He is the promised descendant of David. Crucified in weakness and shame, he is raised in power and publicly preached to the whole world, for the whole world. The secret — the mystery — is more even than an open book. Jesus was suspended on the cross, on the hill, plainly between heaven and earth, to join them in himself to God in one, holy, newly created people.
This work of God was always on his mind, even though it was hidden under the Law, training Israel toward the fullness of time. God does not now find holy people among the worshipers of manufactured gods, and now, by some whim of generosity and laxity, includes them in what was before such a strict, straight-laced people. No; God does not find such holy people, fit members of his newly relaxed rules for getting into his Kingdom.
No; now, here is he born the King of the Jews, to bind Jew and Gentile, religious and nonreligious, into his body, his Kingdom, that is, into himself!
The secret is not that God no longer considers sin to be sin, nor that he has no wrath against sin and sinners. No; the secret is that in the body of Jesus, God has carried the sin to death. In the blood of Jesus, God has given us eternal life — for all, everywhere, who believe in this Son. In his Gospel, God is both declaring and doing this work of the forgiveness of sin. He cuts us from our sin and binds us to Christ by faith. By the Gospel, God lifts us from darkness in death into life in his Son, for by the Gospel the light shines on us and in us to create that new creature — the one, called Church.
The secret is out. God loves us into loveliness. The King of the kingdom judges us righteous by the righteousness he is, gives, and brings to faith.
Moreover, the mystery continues to work. God not only creates the Holy Church by the Spirit through the preached Gospel, but he also makes the Church herself part of the revelation of his secret. Created by the Gospel, the Church is called, gathered, enlightened, and preserved in the faith to carry the Gospel to the whole earth. Missions are nothing else than this one holy Church of God in motion.
To some people, missions appear to be a burden, a competitor to drain away resources from our own needs. In this view, missions appear to be something somebody does in some other place. Such is the misunderstanding of missions and of the Church.
Missions, the “sentness” of the Church, what we say when we call her “apostolic”, always begin with the Gospel and always begin where we are. Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is, of course, a geographical location. But missions also mean that you are sent with the Gospel to sinners, wherever you are in the world and wherever they are. We are sent to each other, and we are sent to the whole world.
When we want to ignore the other sinner as an object of the Gospel, or when we want to exclude some from being hearers and believers, we misunderstand our own selves as Church. We misunderstand the Gospel of God’s gracious will to save sinners.
In speaking that Gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Jesus’ sake and inviting people to trust him, God intends to make you his display to the universe that he wills to bind you and all believers into one Body in Christ Jesus, with Christ Jesus as our head.
Arise! Shine! Your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. If you do not shine, it is because you are not living in the light. If you work and do not let the light shine on your works, people cannot see them to glorify God.
Arise! Shine! That is, get up and listen to that Word. Get up and say that Word. Let that Word dispel the darkness of the gods manufactured by the human spirit. Live in the worship — that is, in trusting that God to be your life and good, your righteousness and hope.
It is a sour spirit that thinks “missions” are something done by somebody else somewhere else. Lift up your eyes, and see how men and women and children of every race and tongue are drawn with you into this wondrous exchange: sinners lose their sin in the death of Jesus, and these very sinners trust him to give them forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, deliverance from death and the devil, and the lively hope of resurrection from the dead for eternal joy. Lift up your eyes. See. Your heart will leap for gladness.