When you have learned to know the value of Holy Absolution, Dr. Luther writes, you shall gladly run a hundred miles to have it. For the forgiveness of sins, in the Name and stead of Christ, is more precious than gold or silver. Indeed, it has been purchased and won for you by His holy, precious Blood, and it gives you eternal life with Him, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. You can’t buy that kind of prize, nor could you discern it on your own, but here it is given to you freely with a Word. This Gospel of forgiveness, through Jesus Christ your Lord, is truly your greatest treasure. When all else has been said and done, it really is the only treasure that matters.
Come, then, receive the forgiveness of sins, and life and salvation, in the One who has been born (and has died) “the King of the Jews.” Though you would not know where to look, nor would you ever find Him by your own wisdom, reason, or strength, He calls you to Himself, and leads you and guides you on the way, by His Word.
The stars, along with the sun and moon, are for signs and seasons in this world, but they do not point you to the Christ apart from His Word. The magi recognized the significance of the new star they had seen, but they likely knew what it meant from the Prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the Star and Scepter of Israel and Judah; whether they knew those Prophecies directly from the Holy Scriptures, or by tradition from Balaam, from Solomon, or from Daniel, who was given the oversight of the magi in Babylon and Persia. In any case, they recognized in the rising of the star the birth of a new Jewish King, who would have salvific importance, not only for His Jewish kinsmen, but for the Gentiles and the whole world. For by the Seed of Abraham, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. This knowledge, too, is the promise of God in the Scriptures.
And it is not the star, but the preaching of the Scriptures, that leads the magi — and now you — to the Christ. Thus it is known that He is born in Bethlehem of Judea. Only when that Word of the Lord has been confessed, does the star appear again, in order to seal what God has spoken, and to mark the presence of His Word made Flesh. So, too, the means of grace confirm His Word and promise to you, and mark His presence here with you.
For Christ Jesus truly is God-with-us in the flesh, as the Prophets foretold. And He has come in the flesh, conceived and born of the Woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary, in order to save you in body and soul, from sin and death, and from the power of the devil.
This is the sort of King that He is: The divine King who bears the government on His shoulders; who becomes like His subjects, in order to serve them, and to share His royal dignity with them; who invades “the darkest depths of Mordor,” in order to plunder Satan’s kingdom, to set free those who are held captive in the slavery of sin and the fear of death, and to make them free citizens of His own eternal Kingdom. For His Kingdom is not of this world, but of God, and of the Gospel, of the Resurrection, and of the New Creation.
Nevertheless, His coming and His Kingdom do trouble and shake up every earthly kingdom, and every power structure, which would set itself up as a god. Eventually, all such lords and gods of men shall be removed from their thrones and thrown down, whether they be a Caesar or a King, a President or Governor, a petty tyrant or a bully in the home, the office, or the classroom. All these rulers of this earth conspire against the Lord, and against His Christ, but they shall not prevail; nor shall they remain. But of His Kingdom there shall be no end.
The newborn King of the Jews is no tyrant or bully of any kind. He is a Man after His Father’s heart: the Son of God from all eternity, and now also great David’s greater Son. He is anointed — in His flesh — by the Spirit of God His Father, to be the Messiah (the Christ) who shall save His people from their sins. He rules with equity, with justice and righteousness; not by violence or force, but by His Word and Spirit. He shepherds His people in peace and joy, because He delivers them from all their enemies and reconciles them to God. He feeds and waters them in green pastures and cool, clear streams; which is to speak, not only of the wants and needs of the body, but of spiritual food and drink for both body and soul, for now and for ever.
He establishes this peace within His Kingdom, between God and man, and by the Gospel of His Incarnation, His Cross and Resurrection, He bestows exceedingly great joy upon all who come to Him. For, not only does He become true Man — made Flesh by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary — but so does He also bear in His Body the full calamity and bitter weight of man’s sin and mortality. Thus, He is born “the King of the Jews,” in order to be nailed to the Cross, crucified under Pontius Pilate. And by this sacrificial death of His, He does away with sin and death, and He rescues fallen mankind (including you) from every evil of body and soul.
Better than any earthly diplomat or negotiator, He is the perfect Mediator between God and man. He makes reparations for all the wrongs that every man, woman, and child has done, and He repairs the breach between the Creator and the children of Adam and Eve. In love for His Father, and for all those whom He has not been ashamed to call His brothers and sisters, His voluntary suffering and Self-sacrifice bring Peace where there has been no peace; such Peace as the world cannot give. Such is the almighty power of this King, Jesus the Christ, whose strength is perfected in the willing weakness of His Cross and Passion.
As He lays down His life for you, in love, so does He take it up again, in the strength of His Father and the power of His Spirit. Having given Himself over to death for the salvation of the world, so does He receive the power and the Glory and all authority in heaven and on earth. It is the authority of the Gospel, of forgiveness, with which He pardons and emancipates you from every crime and punishment. So does He reign in love, as the true King, at the Right Hand of the Father, while all of His enemies are placed beneath His feet. And to you, who come to Him, who call upon His Name, He gives the life everlasting in body and soul; just as He is risen from the dead, and lives and reigns to all eternity.
You come to Him now, and you call upon His Name, because He has come to you, and He calls and gathers you to Himself by the Gospel.
That is how and why you are here: with Him who is God-with-you. For His Gospel — that is, the forgiveness of all your sins, and the free gift of everlasting Life — His Gospel is the blessed and beautiful Light that now shines in the deep darkness of this fallen world. It is by this Gospel that you see and know the way. It is by this Gospel that you believe in Jesus Christ, your Lord, and come to Him, to worship Him.
Arise, and shine, therefore. Your Light has come. The Glory of the Lord has risen upon you. And the great Sun of Righteousness, this bright Morning Star, shines upon you here within His Church through the Gospel. Indeed, here in the Church on earth, the divine Mystery of all the ages is made known; not only to the Jews and Gentiles alike, but even to the powers and principalities in the heavenly places, to the angels and archangels, and to all the host of heaven. The Holy Triune God is manifested and made known in the flesh and blood of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, in His Church: where His Gospel is preached and His Supper is administered according to His Word.
Have you not heard that He is “with His Mother”? Over and over again, St. Matthew has said so. The Lord our God has become flesh of her flesh, and blood of her blood, in order to be with us — in order to be our Savior from sin and death. You’ll not find God anywhere else than in His flesh and blood. But, just so, these very sacred things are given and poured out for you here in this House of the Living Bread, in this Sacrament of the Altar of Christ.
Read this Sign of His coming, and recognize His presence here for you, by the means of His Word. Know what this Bread and this Wine are, and what they are for, by hearing what Christ Jesus says concerning them: His Body given for you to eat, His Blood poured out for you to drink, for the forgiveness of all your sins. This is the Gospel of your Savior: not the sign of a star in the heavens, but your Savior Himself here on earth.
Come, and worship Him here, as the magi worshiped Him in Bethlehem. How so? In Spirit and in Truth, which is to say, by the Holy Spirit, according to the Word of God. That means, in the humility of repentance, and in the confidence of faith. It is from the heart, first of all, by such faith in His Word, that you worship Him. Apart from such repentant faith, whatever worship you attempt is nothing but idolatry. But not to worship Him at all would be equally blasphemous. So, then, repent of your sins, believe the Gospel, and ascribe to the Lord the Glory due His Name.
The faith and worship of your heart will not remain hidden in your heart; but, as the Lord saves you in body and soul, by His Word and with His Word-made-Flesh, so do you humble yourself and honor Him with your whole body and life. With all that you are and have, acknowledge Him as your God and King, as your great High Priest, and as the Sacrifice by which you are redeemed.
Look at the example of the magi: They journey to find the Christ Child, to worship Him in person. And they open up their treasures and give them to Him. Then they return to their own country — much as the shepherds returned to their sheep — only now they go by “another way.” Their whole way of life is changed by their encounter with Immanuel, Christ Jesus, and so their stations in life are now served to the Glory of His Name.
It is the same for you, beloved of the Lord, notwithstanding the differences in your circumstances. You need not go to Bethlehem of Judea, nor follow a star hither and yon. But you worship the same Lord Jesus Christ by taking the time to journey to the House where He is to be found. And this journey, in particular, is for your sake, and for your own benefit, not for His; in order that you might hear and receive His Word of Absolution, and eat and drink of His Body and Blood.
Your worship of Christ begins, not with what you give, but with His gifts of the Gospel to you. You kneel or prostrate your body before Him, not to buy Him off, but in order to receive His mercy and His help. Even repentance and faith derive, not from yourself, nor from your heart, but from His Word and Spirit. You come to worship Him because He is your Savior, Christ the Lord, and all of your worship of Him — in heart and mind, body and soul — arises with His saving of you.
In return, you worship Him with your treasures and your talents. But these are not for His sake or benefit, either, but for His Holy Family; which is now also your own household and family in Him. Remember, again, that He is found “with His Mother,” and it will be St. Joseph who cares for both Mother and Child in and out of Egypt. So you worship Christ with your treasures by using them to care for His people, for your neighbors in the world, and for the Church and Ministry of the Gospel. And like the magi, you return to your own country and go about your life, still in the world, but in a new and better way. You are not in league with Herod, but a subject of the newborn King of the Jews, a free citizen of His Kingdom.
It has often been said that the gifts of the magi confess who Christ is: The Gold, that He is King; the Frankincense, that He is God (for incense is offered to God as the prayer of His people); and the Myrrh, that He is Priest and Sacrifice. Truly, He is each and all of these. But the gifts of the magi are also tangible signs of the worship that you are called to bring: The myrrh of repentance, as your old Adam is put to death with Christ; the frankincense of faith, in which you pray and confess, praise and give thanks, and call upon the Name of the Lord; and the gold of your love for one another in Christ, as you exercise a stewardship of His gifts to you in service to your neighbor.
With repentant faith before God, and with fervent love for God and for each other, you worship the Lord in the splendor of His Glory, in the beauty of His holiness. Not of yourself, but of His Gospel. It is in His Light of forgiveness that you become a light of love for others. Deep darkness still surrounds you in this valley of sin and death, and there is still the darkness within you, within your heart and mind, your thoughts and feelings, your words and actions. Yet, the Light has come — in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus — and, behold, His Light continues to shine upon you:
He daily and richly forgives your sins with His Word of the Gospel, His Holy Absolution. And in His Body given, His Blood poured out, His Glory still rises upon you.
Here, indeed, is Christ Himself, your dearest Treasure. Here He is, the bright Morning Star, the Sun of Righteousness, with healing in His wings for you: In His Name, your sins are all forgiven.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A sword in the hat is better than a foot in your mouth. All the better if it is that double-bladed sword that slices and dices between bone and marrow. But I have always liked to sort things out by thinking out loud with friends and colleagues. And since my opportunities to do so are limited, I figure I can multiply my thinking and sorting here.
Married 28 years, my wife and I have had ten children born to us (six boys, four girls); we have another son and daughter by marriage, a son who went ahead of us to heaven from the womb, four grandchildren and counting. I was ordained in 1996, and have been the pastor of Emmaus since then. I have a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies from the University of Notre Dame (2003), and an S.T.M. from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana