January 6, 2016 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Magi were guided by a star, but they did not pursue their quest in heaven. They went to Jerusalem. Isn’t that the City of David? The place where David’s throne was set and from which it would be re-established?
The scholars told them something else. Scripture knows more than one City of David and foretells where the King of the Jews is to be born:
“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.”
Jerusalem will have a role to play. The throne will go up outside the city gates, not outside Bethlehem, but outside the City of Peace that knew not what made for peace. There the throne of David will be established forever as it is anointed in water and blood. But the City of David where the Messiah is born is the village called the House of Bread, thus is He set into a manger to feed the world. There David once watched over the flock in his fields at night. There the angels announced the Son of David’s birth to shepherds. So it is foretold not only the place of the Messiah’s birth, but also the reason: out of Bethlehem comes a ruler who will shepherd God’s people.
Once the Scriptures were opened, the star again guided them. It took them to the house in Bethlehem where Jesus was living. There, in a house on earth, they found the Baby in His mother’s arms, unimpressive, ordinary, and weak. And there they found the answer to their quest, in a particular place and time, in poverty and human skin, in the scandal of humanity, and though they were Gentiles, they worshipped a Jewish Baby.
Their wisdom may have been more in this than in their astronomy or their gathering of Biblical prophecies: they accepted the spatial, temporal, fleshly limitations that God Himself had assumed. They were not too proud to worship God in diapers, to adore a Babe who looked for all the world like every other baby, and who wasn’t quite the same as them, He wasn’t a Gentile. More than that though He is the Word made Flesh come to be a sacrifice for the sins of the world, Gentiles included, witnessed to by stars, and the title that will be on His cross is too small by far. Yes, He is the King of the Jews that they sought, but He is also the King of the Gentiles.
The wise men then have their wisdom nurtured. They are warned in a dream about Herod. They probably never thought that he was the king of Jews. They never thought the start was announcing him, but the dream warned them that was more than just another petty tyrant or power-hungry bureaucrat. Herod was the new Pharaoh who knew not Joseph the guardian of Jesus, full of hatred and violence He will seek to destroy the true King and those who worship Him.
The Gospel for today ends there, but we know what happens next. Joseph gets another visit from the angel of the Lord in a dream. The angel warns him of Herod’s plan. Joseph then leads Mary to Egypt while the boys of Bethlehem are left to suffer Herod’s rage.
Why didn’t the Magi warn Joseph? Why didn’t Joseph warn Bethlehem? Why does God allow such tragedies to take place?
I don’t know. But I know that it was necessary for Joseph the dreamer to take Jesus to Egypt, that He would not only be born in Bethlehem, but also be called out of Egypt and that they wouldn’t return not to Bethlehem but would land back in Nazareth, that Jesus might be rejected for nearly every reason that men reject one another: His parents weren’t pure, He didn’t grow up here, He is from a back-water Jewish settlement in Samaria more ridiculous than Bethlehem. He humbled Himself to the point that He had to depend upon Joseph, even that others would suffer for Him who is Almighty.
These events did more than fulfill prophecy, as though the Lord were working off a checklist. They were foretold, of course, but all these events also contributed to Our Lord’s hardships and sorrows. He did not come to rule according to the strength of men. He did not come to take David’s throne and military might or his harems. He came in weakness and humility to be a Sacrifice. The throne He establishes is the cross. His strength is not strength as men count strength, yet He is stronger than the devil, stronger than Hell, stronger even than the accurate accusations of the Holy Law. He takes all that justice demands of us into Himself. He is accused in our place. He is declared guilty on our behalf. He dies our death. The Creator became a Creation and the Immortal mortal for this purpose: to redeem us creatures for immortality.
He rules by shepherding, by laying down His life, by guiding us to still waters. The wise men were wise enough to worship Him in His mother’s arms, in His humility. May God, in His mercy, make us wise enough to worship Him here in this house, on earth, in His Word and Sacrament according to His exaltation even as He is yet hidden from the haughty eyes of men.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
+ Thanks to some help from the devotion on the Magi in Christ in His Saints by Patrick Henry Reardon (Ben Lomond, Ca: Conciliar Press, 2004), 286.