Actions speak louder than words.” This is a phrase and a concept we all know. Another person can speak a promise to you, but his action of keeping that promise says much more than the mere promise. A spouse can say, “I love you,” but unless those words are backed up by actions of love and commitment, then the words ring hollow. “Actions speak louder than words.” Even without the expression, we all know how true it is.
It’s even truer for God, especially on this day of celebrating the Epiphany of our Lord. As soon as Adam and Eve had fallen into the deep, dark hole of sin and death, God made a promise to save them and the whole human race. You remember the promise. “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” (Gen. 3:15). God gave His promise, and the human race would eagerly wait to witness His actions of fulfilling that promise.
Through the centuries God gave plenty of actions to save and redeem His chosen people, Israel – the exodus from Egypt; the tabernacle worship; the royal line of David; the temple worship; the return from Babylonian exile. But what about the rest of the human race? The rest of the world was still waiting for God’s actions to confirm His gracious words. As we heard in our first reading, the Prophet Isaiah had promised God’s actions for all nations: “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.” And speaking of those nations from around the globe, Isaiah also said, “They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring the good news, the praises of the LORD.” Those were God’s words. Now, what about His actions to speak His grace and mercy loudly and clearly for all nations?
That’s what Epiphany is all about. God’s action in sending His Son into the world speaks quite loudly. The Son of God taking on human flesh to restore us to God’s favor and life with God speaks quite loudly. But if He had remained secluded in a tiny corner in the little town of Bethlehem, the rest of the world might have thought that God had failed to keep His promise. No, the Infant God in the flesh chose to reveal Himself beyond the bounds of Israel and to all nations. And His epiphany, His appearing, to the Magi speaks louder than words. Isaiah’s words gave the promise; Jesus’ appearing to the Magi gives the loud-sounding action.
We can see how the actions of the Magi spoke at first. They sought the newborn King of the Jews, and so they journeyed to Jerusalem. Resting on their own wisdom, their actions showed that they didn’t quite get it, not just yet. The divine King would not be found in the human centers of power. They still needed to hear the words and promises of God. But once they are corrected by the Word and sent in the right direction with the star’s leading, their actions confess what God has revealed to them. They Magi say absolutely nothing. Their actions confess for them. “And going into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother and they fell down and worshiped Him.” Their worship did not make Him the Christ-Child. Their worship did not cause Him to come and appear for all nations to receive. Rather, they fell down and worshiped because that’s just what you do when you come into the presence of the living God. Actions speak louder than words! Being in the presence of the Creator and Savior of the world calls for different actions, things you don’t do everyday.
“Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” The gifts proclaim the truth of who Jesus is, even if the magi didn’t fully understand what they were giving. The gold was for the King, the incense, for God, and the myrrh, for Man. The action of this offering spoke quite loudly: this Child is the God-Man, the King who comes to save all people from their sins. This royal Child, God in humble human guise, comes specifically to live our human life, to die our death, and to bring us back to life with God. After all, it’s through His death on a cross that He conquers death and forgives sins. And since He is God in the flesh, death cannot contain Him. His resurrection brings life for all who cling to Him in faith, for all who bow down before Him. Yes, actions speak louder than words. His actions rescue and redeem us, and they free us to bow before Him just as the Magi did.
This is the great mystery that St. Paul proclaims to us today. This Christ Child, this Infant Savior, comes not just for Israelites, but also for us Gentiles. This Infant King who would ascend the throne of His cross comes not just for the “good religious people,” but also for sinners such as us. St. Paul said it this way: “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.” God’s actions in sending His Son and revealing Him to the nations spoke quite loudly: He reconciles all people – even us – to Himself!
So, what about our actions in response? Do our actions speak loudly that we are followers of the Holy Child? Do they speak loudly and clearly that this Holy Child is the God-Man who comes to reconcile us with God? What kind of confession do our words and actions make when we’re outside of this place. We know they don’t. So that’s why we come here week after week and repeat the same words and actions. We confess, in word and posture, that we are sinners. But more than that, we are redeemed sinners, children of God who have been cleansed by His Blood. It’s why we sing our alleluias, why we kneel in joyful reception of the One who saved us from sin. It’s why we gladly return to Him a portion of what He has given to us, so that He can redeem our worldly money and give it back to us in the form of an eternal gift.
Thanks be to God that His words and actions match up, especially when ours do not. He has sent His Son, born in our flesh, to save us. He reveals this Son as the universal Savior. That same Son, though crucified, risen, and ascended into heaven and seated at the right hand of God the Father, defies laws of this physical world to come to us each week in Word and Sacrament, to forgive, renew, and strengthen us. For all of that, our actions mimic that of the magi. We kneel down in worship, in thanksgiving, before the One who has given us great mercy. But we do not kneel to give a gift, as if He needed it, but to receive even more from Him. And His actions speak louder than words as He gives us every good gift, especially the one of eternal life with Him in His kingdom which has no end.
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.