Do You See What I See?
What do you see when you look at this Church holy day called Epiphany? Do you see one of the oldest Christian festivals? Do you see that January 6th is the 12th day of Christmas made famous by the Christmas carol? Do you see the one event from Christ's birth that is always depicted in the Christian art of the catacombs? What do you see when you hear about the visit of the wise men? I wonder; do you see what I see?
Do you see the response of the religious leaders when they hear that the king of the Jews has been born? King Herod and all of Jerusalem were troubled, agitated and terrified by the news. They didn't gather for a joyous Christmas celebration; they didn't run around giving each other gifts; they didn't sit down to a big meal or plan parties. Although they must have seen the star that for several years had been strangely moving in the night sky, although they had the same prophesy that the wise men did which said, "A star will come out of Jacob," to them it was just a stellar phenomenon. It didn't lead them anywhere.
Do you see this? Do you see the religious leaders are not only troubled by news of the Messiah, but that the head of them all, Herod, resorts to political plots against Him? He secretly goes to the wise men to find out exactly when the star appeared, so he can find out how old the child would be now. Then he tells them to report back when they've found Him. He pretends he wants to worship the Christ but he really wants to murder Him.
Do you see what I see? Do you see these are the church people, the church leaders, the very ones who daily went to the Temple to pray, to sacrifice, to worship? Do you see that these people are us in the story? Oh yes, we're happy to have a baby Jesus, a newborn king. But like Herod, we know this king is going to grow up, and we're troubled. Christ doesn't come into our life without shaking things up, does He? He says things like, "You can't serve money and me?" And, "You shall have no other gods before me, so you can't fear, love, or trust anyone or thing more than Me!" And, "If you depart from, neglect, or don't hear My Word, you're not My disciple."
Look at your life! Tell me you're not troubled, agitated at the prospect of a king coming and dethroning your words, your reason, your thoughts, your ways? Tell me you don't think of ways to avoid King Jesus? Tell me you don't use excuses, reasons and political double-talk to keep King Jesus from ruling your life? I do.
Do you see what I see? Do you see the response of worldly people? The wise men, or Magi, originally were a religious order among the Medes and the Persians. Daniel in the OT was president of such an order. They studied nature, astronomy and medicine. At the time of Christ's birth they were more of a scientific group than a religious one. But were they kings like the song says? Their gifts are very costly and gold particularly was exchanged by kings to recognize each other's royalty. Also Magus was originally a tribe of people, and the wise men could have been their leaders.
Do you see what I see? Do you see that people from outside the church are drawn to the Christ? They travel hundreds of miles over months to find Him. They're not troubled at the birth of Christ. They become agitated only when they lose the star and can't find Him. But when the star leading them reappears it brings incredible joy. Our reading said, "They were overjoyed." But the Greek says, "They did rejoice with mega joy very much." And far from seeking a way to be out from under this king, do you see what I see? They rush to Him, fall down before Him, and worship Him. They can't wait to be subjects of King Jesus. As their king all they have is His, so they give Him their very best not leftovers: The give gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
In giving Jesus gold, they recognize Him as a king. As we sang,"Born a king on Bethlehem's plain./ Gold I bring to crown Him again,/ King forever ceasing never/ Over us all to reign."
In giving Him incense they recognize Him as God. Sinners who stink to high heaven can only come into the presence of God with sweet smelling incense to cover their odor. In the OT the high priest had to come into the holy of holies under a cloud of incense. Another indication that the wise men recognized Baby Jesus was God in flesh and blood is the fact they presented Him with gifts. That Greek word "presented" was normally used only for offerings to God. "Frankincense to offer have I,/ Incense owns a Deity nigh;/ Prayer and praising all men raising,/ Worship Him, God on high."
And in giving Jesus myrrh they recognize Him as their Savior who would die for them. Do you think this might be a stretch? They either recognized Him as needing to die for them, or they gave a child a ghastly gift. Myrrh was mainly used to prepare people for burial. So they either gave a child a coffin for a gift, or they confessed their faith that their king and God would die in reigning over them. Still doubtful? Consider this. The visit of the wise men is the first of 3 times myrrh is offered to Jesus. The other 2 are directly connected to His sacrificial death. Right before Christ is nailed to the cross the soldiers offered Him wine mixed with myrrh as a sedative to cut the pain. Jesus refused the gift then. The third time myrrh was given to Jesus was at His burial when Nicodemus brought a mixture of aloes and myrrh to bury Jesus properly. He only used the gift 3 days then.
But did the wise men know all of this? The fathers of the church say they offered myrrh to Christ knowing that "it was He who should die and be buried for the mortal human race." Ancient legend says that the first wise man was full of youthful idealism and so looked for a king. The second was middle age and so looked to satisfy his deep yearning for God. The third one was an old man with many sin stained years behind him, so He looked for a Savior. Since he thought any Savior would have to suffer in order to save him, he took a gift of soothing myrrh. "Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume/ Breathes a life of gathering gloom:/ Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb."
That's how the ancient fathers, legend, and a hymn see it. But how do you see it? Do you see what I see? Do you see that even if the wise men didn't fully understand the sacrificial role of Christ, we should? Do you see that rather than responding like Herod did we should respond like the wise men? We should be drawn to His presence and in joy cast down all that we have before our King, and God and Sacrifice!
But do you see how to get from being Herods to being wise men? Do you see what I see? Do you see there's a way to be wise people worshiping in joy before the Christ rather than troubled church people foolishly plotting to overthrow Christ? Do you see the path to being a wise worshiper of the newborn king? The path is right before you. It's lined with all the gold, riches, and things that you own. See them stacked high on both sides. What have they ever really brought you? Peace of mind? If possessions bring peace of mind, how come usually the more people own the bigger their security systems? Joy? If wealth brings joy how come wealthy stars flock to therapists and doctors for depression?
Herod was troubled by the Christ and did all he could to kill Him because he feared Christ would take away his worldly riches. The wise men couldn't wait to dump their riches before Christ. They of course were still wealthy men, but they refused to be ruled by wealth. No, Christ was their king. Their gold, their possessions, their life were all under Him. What a relief to be freed from the tyranny of things by the kingship of Christ.
Do you see what I see? Do you see there is a way to be a wise person even though we are surrounded by a world of fools who claim to be smarter than God? Are you tired of all the wrong ways, decisions, and turns you have made by following the brightest of human wisdom? Have you come to realize how bankrupt human reason is? Do you see now that the path of human wisdom always leads outside of the Garden of Eden, away from the manger, and towards stars that don't point to Christ?
The wise men did. They cast aside all they knew about stars and followed one that behaved as no star they had ever seen before. They cast away all they knew about the invisible God and worshiped a visible Baby. It's a joy to be free from the chains of fallen human reason. Friends, human reason would tell you that there is no good way out of your bad situation. Human reason would tell you that there is no way God can bless you and bring good from your pain, your sorrow, your sickness. Human reason would tell you that your situation is hopeless, joyless, pointless.
Thanks be to God then that you are not ruled by human reason but by the God who became Man. You're ruled by the God who can wash away sins by water connected to His word. You're ruled by the God who uses plain bread and wine to feed you with His body and blood. You're ruled by the God who with just a Word can heal the sick, raise the dead, and forgive sin. Your hopes and dreams aren't limited by the shallow thoughts, plans, and wisdom of sinful men. They are in the hands of a God who is infinitely above you but who loves you so much that He came to earth to personally save you.
Don't you see there is hope even for sinners such as us? Even though we have done a lot of stupid, sinful things, even though there are words we wish we had never said, thoughts we wish we had never thought, deeds we wish we had never done, do you see there is still hope for us? Do you see what I see, what the wise men saw, what Herod and the others refused to see?
Your hope is in the manger not in your politics, wealth, health, or holiness. Your hope is in what this Baby will do. This Baby isn't here to show you how to live or how to be a Christian. This Baby is here to suffer and die for you. He's here to bear your sorrows; He here to sigh, bleed, die, and be stuck in a stone-cold tomb for you. All this He does to forgive you of your sins, and by forgiving you of your sins, He restores to you all possibilities. God can do for you whatever His gracious will wants because none of your sins stand in His way.
Do you see what I see? I hope so. Because in Christ I see endless possibilities, much more than anyone could ask or even think. Amen.
Rev. Paul. R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Epiphany of Our Lord (1-6-05); Matthew 2: 1-12