The Eternal Gifts

Text: Matthew 2:1-12
Date: Epiphany
+ 1/6/07

      Today we celebrate the Christian festival of the incarnation more ancient than Christmas. And thank God for the Gospel of the Epiphany of Our Lord through the pen of St. Matthew. For without it we could be in danger of falling into the same conundrum of King Herod “and all Jerusalem with him,” also the chief priests and scribes of the people, for they were concerned only about a child, a rival king, born in a little (as Luther called it) “cow town” of Bethlehem. To everyone involved it seemed too strange to be believed that this might be the promised Christ. I mean, even though the chief priests and scribes of the people knew the prophecy of Micah that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem of Judah, did you ever wonder why they didn’t go to see him too? There is a reason.

      The difference between a troubled King Herod and the disinterested chief priests and scribes on the one hand and the star-struck visitors from the East on the other, was faith. The one had no idea that anything important was happening, the others knew of the prophecy but did not believe, while these foreign Gentile seekers seemed convinced that the Child they were looking for was a Divinity to be worshiped. This festival, therefore, and this Gospel is the corrective to a “Christmas” which has become observed more as only a tradition, and a bothersome one at that, an ancient story that has become so familiar that we almost sleep through it, a mini-season that so many ignorantly think begins twelve days before December 25 evidenced by the naked Christmas trees lying on the curb waiting to be picked up with the trash on December 26.

      To adequately preach, hear and believe this Gospel, one needs to be clear that there is a human side and a divine side, the elimination or ignorance of one or the other resulting in nothing for faith to believe. The chief priests and scribes accurately quoted the prophet Micah, “from you [Bethlehem] shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel.” With this they believed that to “come forth” means as much as to be born. Where do you come from? I’m from Minneapolis. That is, Minneapolis is my place of origin, where I was born some time ago. So here, the promised ruler was to hail from Bethlehem, that is, to be born there as a human being. But then the prophecy also describes Him, saying, “whose origin is from of old, from ancient days,” before there even was time or place created. Therefore this One who was to be born at Bethlehem is also born from eternity! [Micah 5:2].

      So if you or anyone want to know where this Child came from, to say, “Bethlehem” is only half the truth. For he was “born,” that is “begotten” of the Father before there ever were days, before the world, before heaven and earth, before sun and moon were created. This Herod and the chief priests and scribes were not ready or able to believe or understand. They were concerned only with the physical birth of a human being and knew nothing of the Child’s divine nature.

      So let us pause and look into the manger one more time, with eyes enlightened, to see that here lies not merely a child born of a human mother, but the human incarnation of no One less than the eternal God himself, the Son of God, come to save us, which is why His human name is Jesus, “Savior.” In human flesh He was equipped to be the suffering servant to present Himself as the one-and-only, pure sacrifice for the sin of the world. As God-in-flesh, however, by his death He would vanquish the devil and death and the devil’s entire kingdom. For the Godhead cannot die nor be condemned by the devil.

      These two natures, divine and human, are inseparably united in one person, one Christ, who is true God and true man. This is the mystery that faith alone can comprehend, can believe, can worship. It is the Good News that made the Wise Men rejoice exceedingly with great joy both at the “star,” that is, the Word that drew them, and at the sight of the young Child with Mary His mother. It is the faith that responds in offering gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh, evidence of faith that believes Christ to be King, to be God, to be the Deliverer from sin and death.

      After His death, resurrection and ascension, it is He who will give “gifts to men,” namely, “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers” as angels and stars broadcasting the light of the Gospel, drawing many to the “faith and knowledge of the Son of God” to their eternal salvation and blessing [Eph. 4:8, 11-13].

            So, if you want to know this Child aright, first go to Bethlehem and learn that this Child is born of the Virgin Mary, true man in flesh and blood like yours, yet without sin, with a mission to fulfill to redeem his people from sin and death. Then, after such a glimpse in the manger, the light must dawn, that is, God’s gift of faith, that sees that this son of Mary is also the Son of God, born of God before all things; that when you lay hold of this man, the Christ, you have laid hold of God. When you touch him, you have touched God; when you pray to him, you pray to God. In this light of faith, then, you receive the eternal gifts—life everlasting and endless bliss.