Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Christian Funeral for Romane Lavern Krueger

John 14:1-6; 1 John 3:1-2; Lamentations 3:22-33

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Romane Lavern Krueger was born on June 21, 1934. He was baptized on July 15. He was confirmed on Palm Sunday of 1948. And, he was married to Helen Landsverk on January 18, 1953. So reads Romane’s obituary.
I love that! That tells me something about Romane: Romane’s life was marked by the LORD’s grace and by his own Spirit created and sustained faith. Romane’s life was marked by the LORD at its very beginning in Holy Baptism, was nourished, protected, and sustained throughout his life through the regular hearing of the LORD’s Word and reception of the blessed Sacrament, was blessed with love and joy in his union and sixty-seven years marriage to Helen, and now, at this very moment Romane’s life is marked with the promise and blessing of the resurrection of his body and reunification with his immortal soul unto life that cannot die. That’s the way it’s supposed to go, friends: A life begun, lived and sustained, and finished under the LORD’s grace, mercy, love, and compassion. The LORD was Romane’s portion, and his hope was in the LORD.
But, if you knew Romane, you didn’t need an obituary to tell you that, did you? Indeed, John confessed that, if you lived under Romane’s roof, going to church was not an option, it was expected. You didn’t ask if you were going to go to church. Moreover, Romane lived his faith; perhaps it would be better to say that Romane’s faith lived him. Romane was polite and respectful. He never spoke of anyone negatively, and he would gently correct those who did. In this respect Romane loved his neighbor, his fellow man, and treated him as our Lord would treat them, as a fellow child of God redeemed in the blood of Jesus. It’s really the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and also the Eighth Commandment, “Do not bear false witness against your neighbor,” which commands us to speak kindly of others and to always put the best construction on their words and deeds.
Romane was a good sportsman too. He was never condescending, but always found something good to say about everyone. That is, unless the Cubs are losing early in the game. Then Romane became the great Baseball Forecaster: “That’s it. The game’s over. Cub’s just lost.” It was only the first inning. Maybe that’s not unique to Romane, but that’s just being a Cub’s fan. Romane enjoyed sport of all kinds, particularly baseball (Cubs), football (Hawkeyes), and basketball (Hawkeyes). Romane showed his kindness and politeness whenever I’d visit to bring him communion. Knowing that I am a Yankees fan, he never said a bad word about the Yankees and, in fact, always found something good to say, even though he was a fan of the Cubs and anyone who was playing against the Yankees. Romane loved cribbage too, and he was a crack shot at pool. John recalled a time when he played pool with Dad. John racked and never got a chance to shoot as Romane ran the table multiple times in a row! Romane loved to play pool with John Behne, Duane Bahlmann, and Dick Dreesman, and others. Romane also enjoyed nature: Camping with the Behne’s and the Noel’s, fishing at Balsam Lake in Wisconsin, winters in New Braunfels, Texas. Suffice it to say, the LORD blessed Romane with the rich and wonderful gifts of family and friends, which Romane enjoyed and gave thanks for throughout his lifetime.
Undoubtedly Romane would count the greatest of his many blessings to be his bride and lifelong companion Helen. Romane loved to buy yellow roses for Helen, for the “Yellow Rose of Texas,” something they enjoyed together for so many of those years. One Christmas Helen did not get a yellow rose but a box of chocolate covered cherries instead. As Helen received the box with a hint of disappointment, Romane couldn’t manage to hide a little knowing smirk. There was a yellow rose inside the box of chocolates. Romane and Helen were blessed to celebrate sixty-seven years of marriage just a week before the LORD called him home.
As active, full, and rich as Romane had lived his life, one could easily imagine how he might have become depressed and despondent the past four years as he largely became confined to a recliner due to excruciating back pain, the result of osteoporosis. He was down, at times, to be sure; such is only natural, and human. And yet, Romane’s faith and good nature continued to ring through. He maintained that content and peaceable demeanor and hopeful disposition that, I believe, only people of faith can truly muster. The reading from Lamentations rings true once again: “‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’” “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Romane was God’s child. In Holy Baptism, the LORD named and claimed Romane as His own child, as His very own son, and He made wonderful, gracious promises to Romane, promises that can never be broken: I will never leave you or forsake you. Nothing can separate you from my love. I am with you always, even to the end of the age. However, Romane didn’t become God’s child Saturday morning, but Romane became God’s child on July 15, 1934 when he was baptized, when God washed him clean in the blood of the Lamb, God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” In his life, Romane was God’s child now. Therefore, Romane’s heart was not troubled as he faced death, for he knew that he had a home, in a mansion!, in heaven prepared and waiting for him. “Let not your hearts be troubled,” Jesus said, “Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms.” “I go to prepare a place for you, and I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Thank you, Jesus.
And, there’s a place for you there too, through faith in Jesus Christ, your savior and redeemer. You, too, are God’s children nowthrough Holy Baptism and through Holy Spirit created and sustained faith. And, what you will be has not yet appeared. You will be raised from death, glorified, reunited in body and soul that cannot die. For, the promise we have in Jesus is not a promise merely of spiritual life in heaven, but it is a promise of real, human, flesh and blood life in body and soul, just as God intended in the beginning, forever and ever in His presence. We will see Romane again, just as you knew him in life, but glorified, without pain, suffering, weakness, and without death. Our Lord Jesus has put it this way, “So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany (Epiphany 3)

Matthew 8:1-13; Romans 12:16-21; 2 Kings 5:1-15a

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Lord, if you will you can make me clean.” That is faith speaking. The Jewish leper confessed his faith in Jesus, first, that Jesus had the power to make him clean; second, that, if Jesus willed him to be clean, he would be clean indeed. Yet, as great as that confession of faith was, there may have been a twinge of doubt – “if you are willing.” The leper believed in Jesus’ power to heal, but he seemed uncertain of Jesus’ will. True faith trusts in the goodness of the LORD’s will come what may, come healing or not. The LORD is good, Jesus is good, and His will for man is always good. Holy Spirit, increase our faith and gives us eyes to see the goodness of the LORD in all things, in weakness, suffering, and death, as well as in healing, joy, and life that cannot die.
Then there is the centurion, a Gentile, who petitioned Jesus, not for himself, but for his servant who was paralyzed. Jesus offered to come to his home at once and heal him, but the centurion confessed, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” The Roman commander of one hundred soldiers confessed his own unworthiness. This great man whom many admired, and whom everyone feared, considered himself to be nothing but a poor miserable sinner. Now, I suspect that some of you don’t much appreciate those words we confess concerning ourselves each time we gather here in Divine Service. The Old Adam hates to confess his sinfulness and unworthiness; he’d prefer to blame someone else, even God. That is precisely why we say those words each week, “I – A – POOR – MISERABLE – SINNER,” because that is the truth, that is what I am, and that is what you are, do not deceive yourself. If we don’t want to believe it, at least keep on saying it that, in time, the Holy Spirit working through those words might cause you to believe it.
“Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” That is faith speaking. The faith of Abram who believed the LORD when He promised him an heir from his own flesh through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed – Abram believed the LORD, Abram believed the Word of the LORD, and the LORD counted his faith, his trust, to him as righteousness. The faith of Mary who believed the LORD when His Messenger Gabriel announced that she would conceive and bear the Son of God – Lord, may it be to me as you have said, according to Your Word. Mary believed the Word of the LORD, she trusted the LORD and the Word He had spoken to her. The faith of Abram, the faith of Mary, and the faith of the Roman centurion – that is what faith (trust) looks like, sounds like, and does. Jesus praised the centurion for his faith saying, “Truly, with no one in Israel – not even the Jewish leper – have I found such faith.” And He continued saying, “I tell you, many will come from east and west [Gentiles] and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob [Jews] in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom [Jews in name only] will be thrown into the outer darkness.” Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And his servant was healed at that very moment.
“What God ordains is always good.” Whether the LORD grants physical healing or permits us to endure suffering, it is good: It is good for you. It is good for your family. It is good for others you may not even now when they observe your faith, your trust, in word and deed. I had a different hymn programmed for today, but as this homily came together it became obvious and fitting that we should sing “What God Ordains Is Always Good.” Let me refresh your memory of what we sang a few minutes ago: “What God ordains is always good: His will is just and holy. As He directs my life for me, I follow meek and lowly. My God indeed in every need knows well how He will shield me; to Him, then, I will yield me.” “What God ordains is always goodHe never will deceive me; He leads me in His righteous way, and never will He leave me. I take content what He has sentHis hand that sends me sadness will turn my tears to gladness.” “What God ordains is always good: His loving thought attends me; No poison can be in the cup that my physician sends me. My God is true; Each morning new I trust His grace unending, My life to Him commending.” That is faith. That is the faith of Abram, of Mary, and of the centurion, and of many other heroes of the faith. That is what faith (trust) looks like, sounds like, and does. That is the faith the Holy Spirit alone can create in you, sustain, and bring to fruitfulness unto life everlasting.
In our reading from the Old Testament, it was the faith of a young Israelite girl who had been carted away to Syria to serve as a slave to a high-ranking Syrian commander that was on display. Despite the fact that the LORD had permitted her to be carted away and enslaved, the girl trusted the goodness of the LORD and showed love for her Syrian captor who was afflicted with leprosy. She encouraged him to seek the Word of the LORD in Samaria from the Prophet Elisha. Having nothing to lose, Naaman traveled to Samaria to seek this healing. However, Naaman did not have faith. He went seeking to purchase his healing with gold and silver and costly fabrics. Moreover, he went to the King of Israel, not to the Prophet, because he expected such healing to come from someone of great power, wealth, and authority. This is a temptation we often fall to as well, expecting, demanding, that the LORD answer our prayers in the way we think best, forgetting, or worse, denying, that what God ordains is always good. The king of Israel was terrified because he could not heal leprosy and he thought the king of Syria was trying to entrap him. But, Elisha the Prophet sent word to the king to send Naaman to him, so Naaman went, once again with his horses and chariots and wealth, to purchase healing. This time Naaman was angered that the Prophet himself did not come out to see him but sent his servant with instructions to wash seven times in the Jordan. Naaman was incensed and protested that the waters of Syria were preferable to the filthy waters of the Jordan, so he turned away in a rage. But his servants said to him, “It is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean?’” Essentially, they said to him, “What do you have to lose?” Then Naaman went down and washed, and he emerged from the waters cleansed, his skin like that of a newborn baby. This story is not an attestation of Naaman’s faith – Naaman did not have faith – but, rather, it is an attestation to the goodness of the LORD and His will and the power of His Word for those who believe, for those who trust in Him come what may.
Faith is trust, plain and simple. Faith is the confession that, though I am but a poor, miserable sinner, the LORD is good and His will for me is always and only good. At the very least you can come to Him as one having nothing to lose. But, you are invited, you are called, to come to Him with so much more than that – true trust and love and hope founded in, trusting in, and clinging to the goodness of the LORD, come what may. Has He not said to you that you will be healed? It matters not the way, means, or time; all that matters is the promise He has made and sealed in His Son Jesus Christ which can never be broken. “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Second Sunday after Epiphany (Epiphany 2)

John 2:1-11; Romans 12:6-16; Exodus 33:12-23

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Our Lord manifests His glory in the humble, ordinary, and mundane things of our humble, ordinary, and mundane lives and world: Water, bread, wine, and preachers; the marriage of a man and a woman and the consequent home and family they share together; the birth of a child and her consequent care and nurture. Truly, those who seek the LORD in power and great glory will not find Him, for He is not there, but the LORD is where He has promised to be, in the things, places, and people He promises to be present in, no matter how humble, ordinary, and mundane they may be.
And so, wise men from the east were led by a star to the Christ child. They found Him, not in the royal city of Jerusalem, or even in David’s city of Bethlehem, but in lowly Nazareth in the humble home of a humble carpenter. He was not a great man of stature, wealth, and power but a lowly helpless infant who needed to be fed and clothed and changed by His humble, ordinary, mother and father.
As a boy, Jesus did what young Hebrew boys do, He attended synagogue and temple with His parents, studied and learned the Word of the LORD, and learned His father’s trade and assisted him. The rabbis in the temple marveled at His wisdom and learning at such a young age, for He was just a humble, ordinary boy from a humble, ordinary village, the son of humble, ordinary parents. Similarly, Jesus was baptized in the same murky waters that hundreds, maybe thousands, of humble, ordinary, men, women, and children – sinners all – were baptized in. They emerged cleansed from their sins, whereas Jesus took their sins upon Himself. John cried out, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” But the crowds only saw Jesus, the carpenter’s son from backwater Nazareth.
Today we hear about Jesus attending a wedding. Think about that for a moment. How many weddings have you attended in your lifetime? No doubt, several. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of couples get married, and, sadly, divorced, every day. Few things could be more common, ordinary, and mundane than a wedding. Nevertheless, the Evangelist thought it important to include this story in his Gospel. It was a humble, ordinary wedding in a humble, ordinary village, Cana in Galilee, not far from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth and Capernaum, the home base of His Galilean ministry. And, this wedding had an extremely humble, ordinary, and mundane problem – they had run out of wine.
Now, a little cultural background is helpful to understand why this was such a problem. First century Jewish weddings were weeklong affairs to which the whole village was invited in addition to the extensive family members of the bride and the groom. To run out of wine so early in the celebration would be a grave social embarrassment to the young couple and their families, and even the community. In this story about Jesus we see that Jesus cares, we see that God cares, about things as common, ordinary, humble, mundane, and human as weddings and the common, ordinary, humble, mundane human problems we face every day. The crux of this story, however, is not really the social problem or the miracle of turning water into wine, but it is that Jesus manifested His glory and His disciples believed in Him.
Yes, the end result of Jesus’ first recorded sign or miracle is that the twelve disciples believed in Him. Although there were likely hundreds of people present at the wedding, only the twelve, some servants, and His mother Mary knew what had occurred. Indeed, this helps us to understand the strange dialogue between Jesus and His mother when she informed Him that they had run out of wine. Jesus answered her saying that His hour had not yet come. The hour is Jesus’ time and God’s time, and Jesus’ and God’s timeline. Just as the Lord manifests His glory in humble and ordinary ways, so the Lord does so according to His time and timeline. Truly, faith in Jesus, faith in God, is to believe and trust in Him, in His goodness and providence, to act when He knows it to be right, good, and the best time. The faithful wait on the Lord and trust in His Word. Often, we have to wait as the disease worsens, as death approaches, as we wonder how we’re going to be able to pay our bills or when our wayward children might return home or their faith might be rekindled.
And so, Jesus answers His mother’s prayer. Jesus intervenes and helps the desperate situation. But, He does so in a way that draws little attention to Himself, but the attention of a select few. He instructed the servants to fill the six stone jars set aside for purification rites with water to the very brim. Those jars represented the Law of God which exposes man’s sinful uncleanness. The participants in the wedding were all sinners. They had to ceremonially wash themselves before they could participate in the feast. Jesus transformed the purifying waters necessary for the cleansing of sinners into the very best wine of celebration and joy. The servants believed they drew water from the jars, but when the master of the feast tasted it he found it to be the finest of wines. He gave the credit and the glory, not to Jesus, but to the bridegroom, exclaiming, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now!” In His time, and in His way, Jesus manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.
What about everyone else? Well, they enjoyed the wedding feast, and they enjoyed the very good wine, without taking notice of the Lord’s presence and actions. And, we are often no better than them. We only look to the Lord in things that seem impressive to us or in times of desperate need. We often do not think of Him in the common, ordinary, humble, and mundane day to day routines of our lives: Preparing meals, doing household chores, changing diapers, going to work or school, etc. And yet, Jesus is there with you in those common, ordinary, humble, and mundane things just as He was present at that all-too common and ordinary wedding. I encourage you to look for Him in your lives, to invite Him into your day to day common, ordinary, humble, and mundane lives. The common table prayer is just such a prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.” I know that I have often thought to myself, “Why would Jesus want to be a guest here, at this common, ordinary, humble, and mundane table?” I’ve even thought to myself, “Do I really want Him to be here, as we squabble and fuss with trivial things and even quarrel and bicker at times?” Lord, help us to want Jesus to be with us. Holy Spirit, cause us to believe that He wants to and is with us, just as He has promised. And, help us to be patient and to trust that the Lord will do what He knows best in the time that He knows to be best.
Our Lord Jesus is present with us now, just as He has promised, in the common, ordinary, humble, and mundane people, building, and materials of the Church. We don’t look like much to the world, or even to each other, and yet Jesus is here in His Word proclaimed, in the water of Holy Baptism, in the forgiveness of sins, in the bread and wine of His Supper, and in the hearts, words, and deeds of you His people, His brothers and sisters, His Bride. Truly, this is a foretaste of the wedding feast we will celebrate with Him in heaven forever after. And, the Spirit and the Bride continually pray, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly! Come!”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord

Matthew 3:13-17; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Isaiah 42:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Our God, who created all things in the beginning, who sustains all things even now, also works through the stuff of His creation to redeem and re-create it anew. And so, the LORD dwelt with men in gardens, on mountaintops, in tents and temples, and promised plots of land and, but ultimately, in the flesh and blood body of a human man, and in the common bread and wine and water of the Sacraments. One need only consider how many times a very specific river, in a very specific geographical location, factors in the LORD’s salvific interactions with His people.
Joshua, the Greek rendering of the name Jesus, lead the children of Israel across the Jordan into the Promised Land, leaving their past slavery to sin and idolatrous wandering behind. At the LORD’s command the priests of Israel entered the waters of the Jordan carrying the Ark of the Covenant and the waters parted providing them safe passage on dry ground. Joshua completed what Moses was meant to do, and yet Joshua’s crossing the Jordan did not see its fulfillment until Jesus, the Son of God, foreshadowed in the Ark of the Covenant, the New Joshua and New Moses, Himself, was baptized in the Jordan and opened the Promised Land of heaven to all who are baptized into Him.
Later, the prophet Elijah transferred his prophetic ministry to Elisha at the Jordan, casting his cloak upon him, foreshadowing John the Baptist consenting to baptize Jesus in the very same river in order to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus proclaimed that John was the promised Elijah who prepared the way for His coming as the Prophet promised to Moses and the children of Israel from their own midst in whose mouth God would place His very own Word. However, Jesus does not merely speak the Word of the LORD, but Jesus is the very Word of the LORD in human flesh as our brother and redeemer.
There is even a connection with Noah and the Flood that involves the Jordan River, albeit in a less direct way. As Jesus stood in the waters of the Jordan, heaven was opened to Him, the voice of His Father spoke, and the Spirit descended upon Him as a dove. So was Noah the man in the water, floating in the ark. He was there because God opened the heavens to rain down the flood. The signal that the waters had receded and that the earth was dry once again was a dove that returned to Noah with a freshly plucked olive leaf in its beak. In the very same is a connection to Adam: Jesus is the New Adam leading mankind and animal kind into the New Eden where God dwells at peace with His creation once again. Suffice it to say, Jesus’ baptism is the story of creation retold.
In Holy Baptism, you were made a New Creation and were graced with access to God the Father once again. You went into the water a condemned sinner to drown and die in the flood of God’s wrath against sin, but you came up out of the water a new man, woman, or child, an adopted son or daughter of God in Jesus Christ, a true heir with Him of all that belongs to the Father: righteousness, holiness, heaven and earth, life that can never die. As the Father said of His Son on the day of His baptism, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased,” so He has said of you in your baptism. The heavenly dove, the Holy Spirit, alighted upon you and remains with you, the Spirit of wisdom, counsel, knowledge, and the fear of the LORD.
In the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan are Adam, Noah, Moses, Joshua, Elijah, and Elisha, and also you. In baptism you are Adam, a true son of God having unhindered access to Him in the paradise of heaven. In baptism you are Noah, kept safe in the Ark of the Church until the flood waters of God’s wrath against sin have receded, and the heavenly dove, the Holy Spirit, bespeaks to you peace with God through Jesus Christ. In baptism you are preceded by the New Moses through the raging sea on dry land, and your Joshua, your Jesus, leads you into the Promised Land of peace with God. Jesus’ baptism was necessary for your salvation, necessary to fulfill all righteousness. Therefore, the New Elijah, John the Baptist, consented to baptize Jesus, and he himself decreased that Jesus should increase.
Your baptism was pure gift, pure grace, no strings attached. Baptism is not a work of man, nor a decision or choice that you make, but it is the LORD’s design and the LORD’s gift foreshadowed throughout the Old Testament and fulfilled in Jesus. Through baptism you drowned and died in the wrathful waters, but you were raised to new life that cannot die. Though sin still clings to you, you need not be baptized again but, as our Lord Jesus has taught, you need only have your feet washed and you are clean. That is to say, you return to your baptismal purity and wash your robes clean in the blood of the Lamb when you repent, confess your sins, and are absolved, when you hear and believe and trust in the Gospel, and when you eat and drink Jesus’ body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. All these the LORD graciously provides you in the safety and grace of His Ark, the Holy Christian Church.
“Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord (Observed)

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
If you think about it, Christmas was really about the gift of a savior and a king for the Jews. He was born to Jewish parents in fulfillment of prophecies made to the Jewish people. He was born to be their king, of David’s house and lineage, in the king’s hometown of Bethlehem. Jewish shepherds were the first to hear the proclamation of His birth. Yes, Christmas was really about the gift of a savior and a king for the Jews. However, Epiphany is about the gift of a savior for the Gentiles, for you. 
The truth is, of course, is that Jesus is God’s gift of a savior and a king for everyone, for all the world. For, while the Jews were chosen to be the first to receive the gift, the gift was never intended for them alone, but that God’s gift would shine within them a light of hope and salvation for all the world. That is precisely what was prophesied by Isaiah: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the people; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations, Gentiles, shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”
The LORD’s covenant promise to Abram was that, through an heir from his own flesh, all the nations of the world would be blessed. That covenant was fulfilled, in part, in the birth of Isaac, and then Jacob, and then Judah, and then David, and then Joseph and Mary, and then finally and fully, in their son Jesus, who is rightly the son of David and the Son of God. Thus, the covenant promise made to Abram, the father of the Jewish people, was a son through whom the Gentiles, all the nations of the world, would be blessed. Though Jesus was promised and given first to the Jews, He is God’s gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation for all people of all times and all places.
For, the Jews, as well as the Gentiles, were once a people who walked in the darkness of sin and death. Upon them, the Light of Christ shone forth. The LORD intended that even the promise of that Light, before its fulfillment in Christ, would shine through His people, providing a guiding light for the Gentile nations to the hope of Israel. And, there were times in which the Light shone brightly through them, and the Gentiles were attracted to the God and hope of Israel. But, there were other times when the Light could not shine forth because the people had strayed into self-righteousness and idolatry. The same is true for God’s Christian people, the Church, today.
By the time of Jesus’ birth, precious few in Israel, a remnant, were waiting and watching for the coming of the LORD’s salvation. Still, there were those who were faithful, who studied and kept the LORD’s Word and Promise dear to them. And, there were others, far away in Gentile nations, who also had heard the LORD’s Word and Promise through various ways and means whom the LORD had alerted to the wondrous work He was about to do. To those afar, the LORD provided a special light, a star, to guide them to the Christ child. These Gentile Magi were lead by the LORD’s light to the Light of the world, Jesus Christ, in Bethlehem. Far they journeyed from the East following both the light of God’s Word and the light of the star God provided as a sign, seeking the one who was born King of the Jews.
Why a star? The LORD knew that the Magi watched the stars and read them as signs to mark the seasons and natural occurrences. Therefore, He gave them an unusual star, one that would capture their notice and attention, and through its light guided them to the Light of the world, Jesus. However, the Magi also had the light of God’s Word, and that Word told them the Jewish King they looked for would be for all people. And so, they set out West, to Jerusalem, to the city of the King of the Jews, with gifts fit for a king: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Both Jews and Gentiles are saved in the same way, through faith in Jesus Christ, the Light of the world. St. Paul wrote to the Galatians – words we heard on New Year’s in connection with Jesus’ circumcision and name – “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.” The Light of God shines on all the same, uniting all as one in Christ who will not refuse and remain in darkness. Those weary and burdened by their sin and guilt are drawn to the Light for comfort and peace, but the wicked flee from the Light and try to hide themselves in the darkness because their deeds are evil.
Such a man was King Herod. When the Magi came to him looking for the King of the Jews, Herod deceived them, telling them to go and find the child and then report back to him that he might come and pay homage. Herod was filled with fear and hatred and jealousy for his throne. He was one who willfully turned away from the light of God’s Word and tried to hide himself in the darkness because his deeds were evil. Herod had the Word of the LORD. His scribes rightly shared with him the prophecy of the Christ, but he willfully rejected it. He chose darkness and evil, and he even used the Word of the LORD in an attempt to murder the LORD’s Christ.
But, the LORD sent the star before the Magi and guided them to the place where the Christ Child lay. There, before their Lord, did they bow down and worship Him. And, they presented Him with their gifts of gold confessing His royalty, incense confessing His deity, and myrrh confessing His priestly sacrifice. They were filled with joy at this fulfillment of prophecy, which was for all people. Then the LORD warned them in a dream of Herod’s nefarious plans and they returned home to their own country by another way. Imagine the news they brought back to their countrymen: “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” – just as was told the Jewish shepherds by the angel.
Truly, St. Paul ties it all together in his Epistle to the Ephesians saying, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. […] To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.”
Thus, while it may be that Christmas was really about the gift of a savior and a king for the Jews, and Epiphany is about the gift of a savior for the Gentiles, nonetheless, we see that Jesus was God’s plan for the salvation of the whole world from the very beginning. Indeed, before there were Jews or Gentiles, there was God in the beginning, and His Word which was with God and which was God. All things were made through the Word of God. And, to our First Parents was God’s first Gospel Word spoken: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This was God’s promise to our First Parents, before there were Jew or Gentile, and this is God’s promise fulfilled in Jesus, the Word made flesh.
Jesus has come to bring Light and Life to you this day. In Him, there is no Jew or Gentile, male or female, for all are one body, flesh of His flesh, and bone of His bones, of which He is our Bridegroom, our head, and our Lord. Let us never hide His Light, but let it shine through us in all we do and say that others might know and glorify our Lord and God. Come, let us worship Him. The highest worship we can give is to receive His gifts.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.