Summary: The Magi heard the Word of God from the mouth of the most wicked man in the kingdom, Herod; never the less, the Holy Spirit used that word to establish faith in them moving them to continue their journey to worship the one, true king.
The Epiphany of our Lord Matthew 2__1-12 Sun, Jan 6, 2008
First: Is. 60:1-6 Epistle: Eph. 3:1-12 Gospel: Matt. 2:1-12 Psalm: Psalm 72:1-11 (12-15)
There is a story that I heard so long ago that I can’t remember who first told it. I strongly suspect that it is not a true story, but I don’t know that for sure.
There was a church that had a very cranky neighbor. This neighbor was cranky because he was an atheist. He considered the church to be a drain on society and he did everything in his power to irritate the members of the church.
Sometimes visitors to the church made the mistake of parking on his property. He would have the car towed away. When leaves fell from the church’s trees onto his yard, he complained to the city. During the summer, when the church windows were open in order to catch a breeze, he would play loud, obnoxious music during Divine Service.
The church prayed for this neighbor. They prayed that God would bring change into this man’s life. They asked God to soften his heart.
Well, God did bring change into this neighbor’s life. A tornado came through and destroyed all the buildings on this neighbor’s land.
Undeterred, this neighbor took the church to court. He charged that their prayers had caused God to send the tornado. He asked the church to rebuild all his buildings.
Naturally, the church did what they could to defend themselves. They claimed that their prayers had done no such thing.
The judge threw the case out of court, but before he did that, he remarked, "I have never seen such a strange case. Here is an atheist saying that God answers prayer and a church that says He doesn’t."
There is a moment similar to this in today’s Gospel. We’ve heard the story so often that we have a tendency to skip over this little spot of weirdness.
Last week we heard a little bit about King Herod’s personality. He was a big fan of political assassination and he had a lot of blood on his hands. We know that he wanted to find Jesus in order to kill Him. This is obviously not a god-fearing man. He is a demon-possessed monster.
Now, why would such a person turn to the chief priests and scribes of the people and ask them to search Holy Scripture for an answer to anything? Herod obviously didn’t care about Holy Scripture when it came to his faith or his life-style. Why would God’s Book suddenly become the authority when searching for the Messiah? Why would Herod take the prophecy seriously enough to send troops to Bethlehem to destroy the young boys in that village?
Perhaps James gives us the answer when he says, [James 2:19] "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!"
But Herod is not the only one whose actions are illogical. Consider the chief priests and scribes themselves. They are the ones who are supposed to believe in prophecy, but they take no action at all. You would think that they would make any excuse to leave Herod’s court and gather up their families and friends and follow the wise men to worship the Messiah. You would think that they would at least be curious and want to investigate. Think about it.
Holy men from far away have come to worship Him. They should at least check it out.
This all must have been very puzzling for the wise men. They had made what they thought was a reasonable assumption. If the Messiah were born, then the people who cared for God’s Holy Scriptures at the Temple in Jerusalem would certainly know about it. They had all the prophecies. They had the books of Moses. Surely they would want to coordinate the massive crowds that would undoubtedly gather to pay homage.
And the people in Judea should have known. On Christmas day we read in the Gospel that shepherds had spread the good news in Bethlehem. If we were to read on in the Gospel of St. Luke, we would learn that Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the Temple to keep the laws and statutes required after the birth of a first born son. When Jesus entered the temple area Simeon and Anna both made announcements to everyone in the Temple that this was the Messiah. In fact, Simeon’s announcement is so elegant and edifying that we still repeat it today after we receive the body and blood of the Messiah in the Sacrament of the Altar. [Luke 2:29-32] Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.