Sermon for the Epiphany of our Lord – January 2, 2022
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
I remember one sunny summer day riding the ferry from Mukilteo to Clinton. There were three golfers on the deck. They had walked on with their golf bags. I wasn’t eavesdropping, but I picked up from their clothing and their conversation that they were Microsoft employees. As the ferry was coming into the dock, one of them pulled out their cellphone to coordinate with the person picking them up. His body language suggested that something wasn’t right. He looked agitated. He then spoke loudly enough for me to hear him say, “What? Kingston? I thought you said Clinton?” Microsoft is known for hiring only the brightest and best, but these wise men ended up in the wrong place!
So too with the wise men of Epiphany. The wise men we hear about in our gospel reading for today ended up in the wrong place, at least at first! They had come from the east looking for Jesus, looking for the newborn king of the Jews. They had seen his star at its rising and wanted to come and pay him homage. Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, and yet these wise men ended up in Jerusalem. Jesus had been born in a stable, and here they were in a palace. Jesus had been born among farm animals and shepherds, and here they were among Herod and his court, asking, “So, where is he?”
These men were wise, to be sure, but their worldly wisdom didn’t get them where they were trying to go. Their worldly wisdom led them astray. It led them to Jerusalem instead of Bethlehem. It led them to the halls of worldly power instead of the humble manger. It led them to the murderous Herod instead of the Prince of Peace. Wrong city, wrong house, wrong guy! So much for worldly wisdom!
But these wise men were being led by God. They may have gotten off track, but God was leading them to his Son. At this point you can almost imagine God doing a facepalm. You can imagine the heavenly chorus singing, “Recalculating, recalculating.” But God didn’t give up on them. God got them back on track through his Word.
King Herod called together all the chief priests and scribes and asked them where the Messiah was to be born. Herod’s only interest in finding out was so that he could snuff out this newborn king before he became a threat to his own power, but he put on a friendly front for the wise men and called these Bible scholars together. They knew where the Messiah was to be born. They had godly wisdom from the Word. Citing the prophet Micah, they told him that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea.
As sinister plans started to take shape in Herod’s mind, the wise men headed off to Bethlehem. As they left Jerusalem, they saw the star they had seen first at its rising. They followed it to Bethlehem until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. After a course-correction enabled by God’s Word, they found the right town. Then they found the right house. Then they found the right guy! They found the newborn king, the true king. They entered the house and saw Jesus, with Mary his mother. They knelt down and worshipped him, offering him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
This story of the wise men coming to worship the newborn king has often been called “the Christmas of the Gentiles,” and for good reason. In guiding these non-Jewish wise men to Bethlehem, God called foreigners into fellowship. God called outsiders to become insiders. God called pagans to kneel before his Son. God was making it clear that this Savior had been born for all people, that this king would be a king for all nations. God was making it clear that, as St. Paul put it in our supporting scripture text from Ephesians today, Gentiles would become “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
This is good news for all of us who do not have Jewish ancestry. It is good news for all of us who are Gentiles, whose ancestors worshipped rocks and trees. We too are invited now to kneel before the Son of God and worship him.
This is indeed the Christmas of the Gentiles. But it is something else too, I think. It is also Christmas for those who have been thrown off track. It is Christmas for those who have been trying to navigate their way through life by their own wisdom. It is Christmas for those who have found that worldly wisdom, as helpful as it no doubt can be at times, has led them astray or caught them up short. It is Christmas for those who feel lost or disoriented – like someone who took the ferry to Clinton instead of Kingston.
When we try to navigate our way through life only by our own wits, or only by the wisdom of the world, we inevitably end up in the wrong place. We end up looking in the halls of power for the solutions to our deepest problems. We end up asking the wrong people for answers to our deepest questions. We start to make assumptions about God and God’s ways that only lead us further away from him.
Thankfully, just as God didn’t leave the wise men to chase their own tails in Jerusalem, God doesn’t leave us alone when we get off track. Just as God’s Word offered the wise men the course-correction they needed, so too does God send us his Word to point us the right direction. Even in the midst of our confusion and our mistakes and our misguided assumptions, even in the midst of all the godless, sinister plots swirling around us, God gives us his Word.
As we listen to this Word, we are given a course-correction. As we listen to this Word, we are put back on track. As we listen to this Word, God guides us his Son, our savior and our true king, so that we too would know the overwhelming joy of finding him.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church