Audio of this sermon can be found here.
Faith motivates men to do strange things which seem contrary to common sense. “Strange” may be a description that some would use for the Feast of the Epiphany, as these wise men from the east leave everything behind and follow a star to see a baby whom men long dead say is the world’s Redeemer. But, “strange” is not something unique to the Epiphany of Our Lord. If you look all the way back to Genesis, this same pattern has been seen many times before.
God told Noah—the only faithful man and faithful family in the whole earth—that the wicked earth would be destroyed, but he and his family would be saved. He was to build a boat larger than anything ever seen, gather two of every animal known to man, and close himself and his family and all the animals on this boat. Not only was he to do this great task, but he was to do it while the entire world ridiculed him. No one had even seen rain before, let alone a flood, whatever that is. Noah believed God. He obeyed. Faith motivates men to do strange things which seem contrary to common sense.
God spoke to Abram, telling him to leave his country and his family—his whole way of life—and to travel until God told him to stop. Not only was he to leave behind everything he knew, but Abram and Sarai are childless, yet God promises them that they will be the parents of a nation great in number, and that the very Messiah would come from his line and bless all the earth. Abram, a seventy-five year old man, gathered all his possessions, took his wife and his cousin, and departed. He believed God. Faith motivates men to do strange things which seem contrary to common sense.
So when the Magi saw a star and followed it four thousand years later, they weren’t doing anything that faithful men hadn’t done before. They believed Scripture, that, at some point, the Messiah would come. Through the Prophet Isaiah they learned that He would be born of a Virgin. Through the Prophet Micah they learned that He would be born in Bethlehem. Through Balaam in Moses’s book of Numbers they knew a star would shine. So when that promised star appeared in the sky, they knew that the Messiah had come, and they went to worship the Incarnate God. These men came from the East, came from the place where the sun rises, to worship the One who made the sun. Faith motivates men to do strange things which seem contrary to common sense.
The Magi brought gifts and sacrifices of thanksgiving. But their gifts, more than being simple gifts, made a confession. By myrrh they proclaimed Him as a Prophet, bearing the sweet aroma of God’s Word. By incense they proclaimed Him Priest, for where God is present in atoning sacrifice, there is incense. By gold they proclaimed Him King, possessing the riches of the world. And because their gifts confessed their Lord, we know they were not coming to a baby shower or to drop off a few packages, but they came to worship, came to receive life and salvation from the infant Redeemer. This, the action of the Magi, is where faith speaks its loudest. The Magi do not kneel at the feet of an enthroned monarch, but fall at the feet of a giggling, running infant.
In this lies the entire message of Epiphany: the One who appears to be nothing more than a mere man is fully man, and fully God. The Magi would be the first to confess that today is not about them. The Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord is not merely a commemoration of an historical event, but it is a confession of God manifested in the person of Jesus Christ. Whoever sees Jesus Christ sees God Himself (John 12:45). Though God be clothed in a two year old’s body, Jesus Christ is still fully God, the Light of the World, the One who scatters the darkness of sin. Greater still, He is not come only for Israel, but even for the Gentiles. Those who were once outcasts are now on equal footing in Christ—“the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of [God’s] promise in Christ through the Gospel.”
Just as faith motivated Noah, Abraham, the Magi, and everyone else recorded on each page of Holy Scripture to do something contrary to common sense, so does it motivate us to come here this day to do something contrary to common sense. While the world around us and countless others in Christendom say that we are here this day to give something to God; that we are here because God needs us to sing hymns to Him and give Him our worship, we know that we are here for a different reason. We are here this evening because we have checked ourselves into a hospital. We came, like the Magi, to make a confession. We confess that we are in the presence of Almighty God and we are here to receive gifts from Him, not the other way around. If God needed our hymns and offerings, we could sing in bed and mail in a check Monday morning. Rather we are here “to worship Him” in the right sense of worship: reception. We are here to be with God in the Flesh, to be where He is, to receive the gifts Christ freely gives and to praise Him for His mercy towards us poor, miserable sinners.
To you, the Lord of Heaven has given great glory, honor, and delight. He holds back nothing from you. He gives you every spiritual blessing into eternity. He loves you, dear child of God! He has come in spite of your sin and its darkness. He has come, as God and man, to buy you back from death and hell. But He does not do it with costly gold and silver, but with the priceless gift of His holy, precious Blood and with His innocent suffering and death. Love, just like faith, motivates men—and God—to do things which seem contrary to common sense. In love, Christ bore all the frailties of human flesh for you, to redeem you. Very God of Very God, the Master Craftsman who established the clouds, assigned the sea its limit, and marked out the foundations of the earth (Prov. 8:28ff), took on the flesh He created, learned to walk, write His Name, experienced hunger, and ultimately died, all out of inexpressible love for you. This is the love which the Magi learned from the Prophets and knew had come, and the love which you see standing immovable on the Crucifix.
But His love does not end there. All that Christ has won for you He gives to you this day in His Body and Blood. Just as the Magi knelt before the Infant Lord and Ruler, so do you kneel before the Lord who comes to give His righteousness in Holy Communion. Their faith motivated them to give the greatest worship to One who looked in every respect like an ordinary infant. In the same way, while the world sees ordinary bread and wine, your eyes, in faith, see the Body and Blood of your Savior, the same Body and Blood at which the Magi knelt. Faith motivates men to do strange things which seem contrary to common sense.
This faith, like the star leading the Magi to the Infant Christ, will lead you to eternal joy in the presence of the Holy Trinity, the glorious Godhead. There, for eternity, you shall proclaim the praises of the Lord, for, in Christ Jesus the eternal purpose of your salvation is accomplished.
At this Epiphany, this manifestation of Jesus Christ as God and man, this incomprehensible mystery of the faith, sing to the Lord a glorious song. This One whom the Magi sought to confess as their Lord, is your Ruler and your Shepherd, yet the Lamb for sinners slain. As you have already re-echoed the “Good will toward men” of the angels, be prepared to sing with them again: “Blessed is He who cometh in the Name of the Lord.”
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.