Let us pray: Dear Savior, long ago on Your infant bed, wise men came to worship You. They brought You fabulous gifts to honor Your coming and Your presence on this earth. May we emulate them by bringing You our most precious possession, our heart! But, may we also recognize that You brought to them and to us the greatest gift of all: Your heart ladened with love and forgiveness and eternal peace. In grasping that, their joy will be our joy. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, GOD’S GIFT TO US!
TEXT: Ephesians 3: 2-12
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh—these were the gifts the wise men brought to the Baby Jesus. Truly they were gifts fit for a Savior and King. After all, frankincense and myrrh were costly forms of powdered incense used by the Jewish high priest and burned on the temple altar to show the sweet-smelling prayers of the people rising up to God. Presenting them to Jesus was really the same as giving their heart-felt prayers of thanksgiving to the Lord. And gold was an obvious choice since Kings wear gold. As I said in last week’s sermon, the parents of our Savior/King put them to good use while in Egypt, too. These gifts financed their sojourn in that country, thus helping to keep the Baby Jesus safe.
The message of Epiphany is that the Savior has come to save all people. He came to save Jew and Gentile alike—the wise men representing the gentiles, or us. Our Lord didn’t confine Himself to saving a small, ethnic group of people. No, He came to uplift and redeem the nations of the world from the slavery of sin. Just like all true children of Abraham are born not of mere flesh and blood, but of faith in God’s promise of a Messiah, so any and all gentiles who also grasp hold of that same promise of deliverance through faith in Christ are now children of God and co-heirs with Christ of eternal glory. The faith of these gentile wise men and God’s stamp of approval on them via God’s intervention by means of a dream to warn them about Herod’s murderous intentions is our proof of that fact.
Obviously St. Paul’s words in this epistle are God’s application of that truth to our lives. But lest we miss the real point of Epiphany and dwell solely on the wise men and their gifts to Christ, Paul now lays before us the greater truth. That truth being:
THE MYSTERY OF THE MAGI’S GIFT IN REVERSE
“This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” St. Paul was chosen by God and instructed by the Spirit during his trip into the desert after his conversion on the road to Damascus. His ministry was to be to the Gentiles, the non-Jew. Paul was especially fitted for this as he came from good Jewish stock, his father was a Pharisee, and also because his father was a Roman citizen. That meant Paul could easily travel and converse with all people throughout the Roman empire and gain a fair hearing.
So, Paul writes this letter to the Ephesian church that he founded. He writes to a predominately gentile congregation concerned with whether or not they truly belonged to God’s chosen people. And here he reminds them that like the Magi, they were God’s chosen people because they shared, through faith, the promise (now the reality) of the Savior in their lives.
Too often today people focus their faith on the magnitude of their response to Christ. “Do I pray enough? Am I fervent enough? Do I let my light shine enough? Do I really deserve God’s blessing and love?” Too often weak-willed Christians look to the size of their offerings and their regularity around the church as proof of their faith. My friends, all such things are a fool’s errand because they put the cart before the horse. The Magi’s gifts to Christ, just like our lives, are only made holy because of God’s gift to us. First came the Christ Child. First came God’s good will to men revealed in that Baby. Yes, the gift of the Baby Jesus is what caused those men’s faith-filled joyousness to well up in their hearts. God’s gift to them came before their gifts to God. And so it must always be for all who wish to embrace the Messiah.
Like the wise men, Paul was humble before God. For the work of the Church is never about humans or our power or faithfulness, instead it is always about Christ and His power and faithfulness to us. That’s why St. Paul later writes those amazing words: “To live is Christ and to die is gain.”—Only in Christ is that possible. But now, right here, he expands on that glorious thought by providing the Ephesians with even greater insight into this mystery of the ages: God coming to save His mortal enemies, us, by giving up His life on a cross in our place.
He says this: “I became a servant (a slave purchased by the blood of Christ) of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities (the various ranks of angels) in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”
In his first epistle, St. Peter elucidates God’s eternal plan for our salvation, and then adds: “Even angels long to look into these things.” That little passage always amazes me. Even the angels didn’t fully understand or fathom the full extent of God’s huge heart. They never dreamed that God would honor mere humans, who had rebelled against Him and spit in His face again and again via sin, that God would honor such ingrates by dying for them to save their souls. Angels knew all about giving God gifts. They gave Him and still give Him thanks and praise and honor and glory. They sing His praises in heaven every single day. Thus, to angels, the wise men coming with precious gifts made total sense. What didn’t make sense was the mystery of the Magi’s gift in reverse! That the gift of the Baby Jesus trumps any and all angelic or human attempts at homage. But, my friends, you and I do understand that blessed truth. And God administers that truth to us, that gift to us, via His Holy Word and His holy Sacraments. And because He comes through those simple, humble means of grace to honor us, “we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”
The wise men stand out not because of their costly presents, but because through the power of the Spirit they were moved to give God their hearts. Emulate them today. Give God your heart, too. Why? Because in the Christ Child God has given You His heart! That’s the solution to the mystery of the Magi in reverse! Amen