EPIPHANY - January 6, 2013

Scriptures – Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12 

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you! (Isaiah 60:1) 

Oh, how babies change things! Never, however, has a baby changed things as drastically as the baby Jesus changed things. Take Joseph and Mary. Who were they? Just an unknown and insignificant couple living in Nazareth, a rather poor and backward village in a poor and backward region of the mighty Roman Empire. But now, Mary is blessed as the mother of God; Joseph is held up as a great example of a faithful husband and father; and, both are praised for their obedient trust in God. Their names are known and they are honored throughout the world!

It was not so when they lived, of course. They remained an insignificant and unknown couple in the world. And, they were subject to the whims of the great and mighty. When Caesar Augustus wanted to collect more taxes Joseph and his very pregnant wife had to journey to Bethlehem to register for the tax. When they arrived it was so crowded they couldn’t find any lodging, and Jesus ended up being born in a stable and laid in an animals’ feeding trough. You couldn’t get much lower than that. It seems there was no great change there! They eventually did find a house in Bethlehem to rent for a while, but life was hard and they remained poor. And now, they had another mouth to feed!

Suddenly, a few months later, Wise Men from the east showed up. These wealthy and influential scholars bowed down before their infant son and laid fabulous gifts before Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Finally, things had changed! Because of Jesus, they now had more wealth than they had ever had before! And then, suddenly, things changed again, and again for the worse. An angel warned them that their own King, Herod, was going to try to kill their son, and so they fled far away, to a Jewish colony in Egypt. So much for the wealth the Wise Men had given! It was consumed by the journey and by their stay in Egypt.

Such is life. Our lives are generally much better than Joseph’s and Mary’s, of course, much more prosperous and stable and secure. Still, we also endure many hardships. We suffer because of bad people and bad things done to us. It often seems that soon after something good happens something bad occurs. (I know that it invariably happens that, as soon as my car loan is paid off, something breaks and I have a major repair bill.) “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” says Isaiah. Really? Where’s the light? Where’s the glory? Little seems to have changed.

Perhaps it’s time you turned on another light, time you changed your expectations. “A new day has dawned upon you in Christ!” says Isaiah. What kind of a day? Not a different day in this life; not the changing of these days; but a new day, an eternal day, a day with God which will have no night and which will never end.

This is what we have in Jesus: we have the God who created the heavens and the earth rejoicing over us and smiling upon us, as a new mother smiles upon and rejoices over her newborn baby. Because we now live in His favor in Christ we have a new day to look forward to, a day when we will see God’s glory and live in joy in His glorious presence forever! Isaiah describes that day (Is. 65:17-25):
“Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days… They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands… They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.”
This is what we have to look forward to in Christ! This is what He will bring one day! Yearn for this day!!

As long as your primary focus is this life – the enjoyment of it and the avoidance of hardships; the amassing of possessions; having others think well of you – all while ignoring or not seriously considering the shortness of this life, the thick darkness of this world and of your own sins, and God’s coming and eternal judgment of sin and sinners in hell, you will never understand God or seek to enter into the bright light of the day that has dawned upon us in Jesus. Nor will His light brighten your spirit and enable you to lift up your head and rejoice, no matter what the days of this life bring.

God wants us to long for and live for and be ready for His eternal day. That we might be prepared for it and fitted for it, Jesus brings to us now the glory of God’s forgiveness of every sin and wrong we have committed. Forgiveness is the true blessing of God that we need. It is the true light of God shining upon us in Christ. The Son of God did not become flesh and be born into this world so that He might receive riches, nor to give us the world’s riches. He came to receive bills and debts, to be charged with the responsibility for our sins and be judged by God for them. “He is Immanuel, God with His people to save them from their sins,” is what Joseph was told by an angel. By His death on the cross He paid the price for them, and when He rose from the dead and burst forth from His tomb He brought forth a new day of God’s eternal blessing for us all.

Above everything else, the forgiveness of our sins and the strength to fight against them is what we must be seeking from Jesus, not blessings of prosperity and health in this life. A new day with God in heaven is what we must be desiring, not better days in this life. These blessings are given to us by God at Bethlehem; and, not just 2,000 years ago. Bethlehem is available to us all here and now. One of my seminary professors, Dr. David Scaer, put it this way in a sermon he preached years ago at my church in Londonderry, NH:
“The coming of God in the flesh is not simply one event among many, but the only one that ever mattered. Jesus was coming as Adam to construct a new humanity. Not only do our children become God’s children in baptism but all of us, whether we are old or young, remain God’s children because we are sharing in His body in the Holy Communion. Jesus can now look at us and say “flesh of my flesh,” because He has become part of us. Like Eve, we are taken from Christ’s side, but by the Holy Communion we are put back into His side so that we become His body. Christmas can never be Christmas without the Holy Communion, and the Holy Communion means that God’s people are again celebrating Christmas.
We are drawn through bread that is consecrated as Christ’s body into Bethlehem, and from Bethlehem we are taken into His paradise. At the altar we join wise men who worshiped 2,000 years ago. The bread that comes down from heaven is the Child in the manger and is now given to us from the altar. The One who came as the child of Mary to be worshiped and adored by wise men, still comes in the Holy Communion and is coming now in judgment.”
The new day is dawning upon us! Christ and His life, His eternity, is shining upon you! Come and receive Him, and be truly rich!!

The world may hold
Her wealth and gold;
But thou, my heart, keep Christ as thy true treasure.
To Him hold fast
Until at last
A crown be thine and honor in full measure.

(LSB #372, vs. 6)