THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD AD 2019
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
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 peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
 And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
 Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from afar,
and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.
 Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and exult,
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
 A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—  assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you,  how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.  When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ,  which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.  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.
 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power.  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,  so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.  This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,  in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem,  saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;  and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
 " 'And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.' "
 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.  And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him."  After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.  And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
Today, with Epiphany, we leave the twelve days of Christmas behind and enter what could be called the “post gift season”. Of course many people left Christmas behind some 12 days ago. I know, I saw the stripped trees out at the curb as early as the Feast of Stephen, also known as Boxing day. The post gift season is the time that you really get to settle into enjoying your gifts … really get to put them to use. Oh, to be sure the new sweater has probably been worn at least once by this time and that new iPad has more than a couple of apps already loaded on it, but these are the days, when that sweater gets to start its journey toward being an old favourite, and the features of the new iPad start their way to becoming old hat.
The post gift season does not mean that the gifts are gone. No, it’s the time when the fullness of what’s been given gets to be discovered and enjoyed. Epiphany, which is also referred to as the thirteenth day of Christmas, still involves gift giving, with the wise men coming out of the east with their gold, frankincense and myrrh, for the One whose birth had been marked by the appearance of a miraculous star in the heavens … the One who had been born King of the Jews. After today though, the Church will begin to unpack for her children the fullness of what the gift, that was laid in the manger, means for them.
The first thing that she highlights for us is the “forever” quality of God’s gift of His Son to us. She sets before us today the wisemen falling down in worship before God’s Son in the arms of His mother Mary and offering their gifts. As great and precious as those gifts were, as kingly of gifts as they might have been, they are long gone. Remembered, yes, remembered but they, unlike the gift on Mary’s lap, are no longer with us. No doubt they were a great help to that poor young family, but they are long gone by the time that infant child became a man, as He remained poor and homeless until the day He died, when all that He had was the clothes on His back, which were even stripped from Him in death.
No, gold, frankincense and myrrh, like iPads and new clothes, as precious and dear as they might be, are not forever gifts. They get used up. They wear out. They get outdated. These gifts are without question God’s gifts to us, even if someone else put their name on the “from line” on the gift tag. Every good gift has the Creator behind it. It simply goes along with the truth that all things are His, because He made them out of nothing. Whoever He uses in between to put things together, or wrap them up and give them to us, they ultimately all come from Him, which makes them all good, even if they aren’t always used for good things. But as we see today, there are differences in God’s gifts.
Some only last for a time. They are passing. They rust and turn into dust, which is why God warns us not to cling too tightly to them, and not to put our trust in them. One day they will all be gone. Other gifts are more enduring, although they can be given up, they cannot be taken from us. These are birth gifts - gifts like our parents or children. No matter what may happen in life these gifts remain. Your parents are always your parents, even if they die. The same is true for your children. Even if tragedy should strike, they still remain your child. Birth gifts are simply yours. Period. You can turn your back on them, but they remain yours all the same. This truth is highlighted by King Herod today.
The wisemen’s news troubles him so deeply, because they speak of a child, who has been born King of the Jews. Herod had schemed and politicked his way into being a king. His kingship was not a birth gift and so could be lost, especially to one who had it by birth, which led him to do all kinds of terrible things, like slaughter every Bethlehem child two years and under, or murder his own kids, when he thought they were eyeing his throne. King of the Jews. Yes, Jesus, was born as King David’s rightful heir. Its truth was acknowledged and written by Rome over Him, as He suffered and died, and He remains so to this very day. It doesn’t matter that the world, and not even His own people, acknowledge it. The King of the Jews He remains because He was born to it.
Birth gifts. they are special, unique, which is why God no doubt has His Son born to be our Saviour. Christ’s birth as our Saviour, like His birth as our King, is a birth gift to Him and so to us. His place as Saviour is simply given to Him at birth. He doesn’t earn it, or come to it later, it is His from the start and remains so forever. And because it remains His forever, it is also a forever gift to us. Since He was born as our Saviour, He will always be that to us. You can reject Him. You can turn your back on Him. But Your Saviour He remains. You don’t make Him your Saviour, anymore then you make him your King. As you can’t stop Him from being either of these things either. You can choose to go without the benefit of having Him as either, but that doesn’t and can’t change who He is. These are birth gifts.
Birth gifts are special. Deep down we all know it, which is without question why God gives all the benefits of what our Saviour and King has done for us with just such a gift, as He did for Amanda this morning. God uses the new birth gift of Baptism to cover our lives with the life of Christ, to take away all our sins and give us eternal life, so that there’ll be no question that these things are ours, now and forever. He rebirths us in the font as His children in Christ, so that we might know and hold onto the truth, that no matter what happens in life, no matter how badly we mess up or how far we fall, all that He gave us in our baptism still stands. He gives us these gifts in this way, so that when Satan comes accusing, and death comes calling, we can face them down in our baptismal birth truth.
Yes, Satan, you have a fine list of my sins. I could even add a few that you forgot to mention, but I stand forgiven nonetheless. Go waste your foul breath somewhere else. Forever forgiven, that is what my new birth in Christ in my baptism means. Every last one of my faults, failings, sins is covered by the blood of Christ. Blabber on all you want it means nothing! Beloved, cherished, perfect in Christ as a child of God - that’s what I am and ever will be - the birth gift of my baptism puts that beyond question forever. And you death? What are you going on about? Trying to frighten me with? Bring it on! Eternal. Eternal life is mine. It’s a baptismal birth gift. You can’t put a finger on it! And so shove off with your dark shadows and your creepy valley. In my baptism you’re not even a b-grade horror movie to me!
The post gift season, yes after today, that’s what Amanda enters into with the rest of us, the time of life after Baptism where God through His Church is at work week by week to unpack the fullness of what has been given to us in our new birth as His dear children. The Lord wants us to get comfortable with this gift … to make good use of it … to cling to it … to cherish it … to face down sin, death and hell with it. “I am baptized,” He wants us to cry out when we are feeling down. “I am baptized,” He wants us to declare when we are feeling guilty and bad. “I am baptized,” He wants us to proclaim when we are worried and afraid. I am baptized!
Yes, He wants you to name it and claim it, and the fullness of what it means for you - which is why Christ lives out its truth by giving Himself to you in His flesh and blood this day. Christ is in you and you are in Him. You are Christ’s and Christ is yours now and forever. Amen.