Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon for the Epiphany of Our Lord, 1/6/2023. The bulletin is available as a PDF: Epiphany Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for Epiphany, click here.
Mary’s child was revealed as God in the flesh to neither the wise nor the righteous. The shepherds were ignorant outcasts of Jewish blood, despised and untrustworthy – something like long-delinquent members, marked as “Christian” on the census, but that might about as far as it goes. They are real shepherds, of course, but they also represent the Jews.
Those who are called wise men by the ESV are better called magi. They were magicians, pagan, i.e. Gentile astrologers. They looked to the stars for answers and were something like natural philosophers. They were real men, of course, but they also represent the Gentiles. Yet God in the flesh, hiding in humility and sorrow, attracted them both: Shepherds and Magi, Jews and Gentiles, delinquent members and palm readers.
To one set He was revealed by angels in heavens, to the other set He was revealed by a star in the heavens. The birth of the Messiah is the end of our war with heaven; so, heaven announces peace and welcomes us home.
Heaven chose as earth’s ambassadors two unlikely groups: long-delinquent members with tainted pasts, and then outright pagans. Thus would heaven confound both those who imagine themselves to be wise, and those who think they are righteous by way of heritage or breeding. Which is to say that even life-long Christians ought to be warned.
Christ has come to bring peace and salvation, not to the wise or the righteous; not to those who can quote chapter and verse, recite the Catechism, or know the words to all the hymns; not to those who serve on the church council, or tithe the most, but to fools and sinners.
No one great, no one who is mighty in works or knowledge or lineage should exalt himself. Likewise, no one who is weak, dirty, or disreputable; no one who is divorced, victimized, despised by men, mad at God, or mad at His Church should despair, because Jesus came to reveal Himself and give Himself to shepherds and magi.
Repent. The truth, so graciously revealed to you does not belong to you. It can be taken away, and it will be taken away from those who neglect it.
Repent and rejoice, you who have nothing in which to boast; who took the Word of God for granted, who forgot your confirmation vows and skipped church, who kept your money for yourself or gave grudgingly.
Rejoice you who sat in the pew and lusted for the person two rows away, or dreamed of vengeance and nursed grudges against co-workers, even as the Word of God was being proclaimed. Rejoice. Jesus reveals Himself as God and man to be a sacrifice, to bestow peace to rebels, fools, and sinners.
Let us not be like Herod, consulting the Scriptures for facts to be used against God or for some trivia, while refusing to submit and believe what it says.
Let us instead be like the magi and shepherds who hear the call and come to worship; who bask in the humble presence of God in diapers at His mother’s breast. There, in her arms, is the peace that passes understanding; there is God’s Service and Offering to man; there is joy worth of angels and stars.
God has taken up our flesh and is born not in Jerusalem, the city of kings, but in Bethlehem, the house of bread. He has made Himself approachable. He does not despise the worship of stinking shepherds and shameful magi. He does not despise sinners. He has come for you. And while we do not rejoice in sins, but rather deeply regret and mourn the harm we’ve done to ourselves and to others, let us rejoice in this: He comes for us.
We are not wise or righteous, healthy or put-together. We are sinners: sick, broken, habitual sinners. We need a Messiah, a Savior.
God has provided one – out of Bethlehem and out of Egypt, out of Nazareth and even out of the grave, He has called forth His Son – for He is the scapegoat driven out of the city with our sins upon His head, and He was crucified for us outside the city gates. He died, and was buried. He comes out of all those places for us.
So there are then no walls to stop you; no pedigree or accomplishments are needed or checked. All you need is to be weary.
“Come to Me,” He says, “all who are weary, and I will give you rest.” That is something we can handle. Jesus, who rests in His mother’s arms, is rest for you weary, who come now to His table.