Second Sunday After Christmas January 5, 2003
96, 131, 134, 127
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’” Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” When they heard the king, they departed; and behold! the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
Dear Friends in Christ, our God manifested in human flesh:
You have probably heard the saying “there’s no such thing as a stupid question.” It is often used, maybe in a Bible Class, a First Aid training session, or some other sort of learning situation when the instructor wants people to come forward with questions in order to clear up any confusion that might prevent someone from learning the lesson.
Of course, people aren’t and weren’t, always so tactful. We can well imagine the snickers and rolled eyes that occurred when a group of wise men, or Magi who were most likely from the region of Babylon, appeared in Jerusalem, asking the question: “Where is He who is born King of the Jews?”
At first mention, it would have seemed to be a silly question because wouldn’t it be obvious that if a new king of Israel had been born everybody would have heard about it? What a foolish question these foreigners asked!
But then the smirking gave way to trembling as the locals began to realize how their present king, Herod, would react to such news. Not even of Jewish descent, Herod had gained the favor of Caesar Augustus who gave him control over the region of Israel. Caesar bestowed the title “king” upon Herod. It was a title Herod guarded so jealously that he murdered more than a few of his own children and other relatives in order to keep a secure grip on the throne.
There was a least one person who did not treat the Wise Men’s question as foolish—Herod himself! Herod encouraged and even aided the wise men in their inquiry—though not out of goodness! Now, if there is no such thing as a stupid question, then certainly this question, above all others, is worthy of our Epiphany attention. “Epiphany” means “a revealing, an appearing.” The question of the wise men is one that creates a wonderful opportunity for Jesus to reveal Himself to us, and to make apparent the true wonder of the Savior who has come into this world. Where is He that is Born King of the Jews? I. He is born in Bethlehem II. He is crucified in Jerusalem III. He is borne into Heaven IV. He comes to us in Word and Sacrament V. He is carried in our Hearts
Where is He who is born King? Why, He is born in Bethlehem, of course! The Wise Men must have been surprised that there was no official notice of the king’s birth when the star, leading low on the horizon, led them about six miles south of Jerusalem to a house in the town of Bethlehem. God was acting in accordance with the words of His ancient prophets whose words stood as an enduring road sign pointing all believers to “David’s royal city,” and to a descendant of the king who once tended sheep there.
God was also acting under the noses of the rich, influential, powerful, and arrogant. It is astonishing that Herod and the scribes were informed enough to listen to Scripture concerning the location of the Christ’s birth, but they had no faith, no desire for the Christ Himself. Men from other lands sought so diligently for something the Jewish leaders had, but for which they had no love. The Savior was born in Bethlehem only six miles away, but news of His birth aroused jealousy, not joy. So it is with the great blessings that God works in this wicked world through His Gospel. Those who have the easiest access to it often cherish it the least.
Meanwhile, the Magi found the babe, fell to their knees (the literal meaning of “worship”) and honored this baby as their King, their Lord, and their Savior. They had come to Bethlehem, and found the treasure of their hearts.
After finding the Christ, the Wise Men opened their treasures—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The fact that there were three gifts should not lead us to conclude that there were three wise men, or that they were kings. Scripture identifies them as “Magi,” not kings and does not give any indication of how many there were other than there were at least two.
We are not told why the Wise Men brought these particular gifts, but the gifts were valuable and significant at that time. Gold was the substance of royalty. Frankincense was an incense. In Israel, incense was burned by the priests while they offered prayers to God on behalf of the people. Myrrh was an aromatic substance that was used for perfume and for burial. With these gifts, the Wise Men showed their love for the Christ and their thanksgiving to God who sent Him.
Having worshiped the King, the Magi left Bethlehem to return home. Prompted by a warning God gave them in a dream, they did not return home via Jerusalem and king Herod.
Once Herod understood that the Wise Men were not returning to him, he reacted violently. He gave the order to kill the young children of Bethlehem and the surrounding region. Time was short. Herod was sending his troops. By God’s direction, Joseph took Mary and the Babe and soon left Bethlehem for good. Bethlehem had served her purpose.
Where is the king of the Jews found next? He grew up in Nazareth, but He accomplished little there. The next time we really hear any detail of Jesus’ life and work, He is in Jerusalem. As a twelve-year old, we find Him in the temple being fascinated with the Word of God and understanding that in the Word He learned of “His Father’s business” (cf. Luke 2:41ff).
Later, in His public ministry, Jesus would twice come to the temple and cleanse it, saying that it was not a mere marketplace, but “His Father’s house” (cf. John 2:15, Matthew 21:12). At the end of His ministry, it was without the golden trappings of other kings that Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. It was not at an altar of stone, but upon the wooden cross that Jesus made atonement for the sins of the whole world; and it was His lifeless body, wrapped in linens and spices, that became an aroma of life and not death when Jesus rose from the dead leaving the tomb empty and powerless.
Jesus was found in Jerusalem doing what only He, our King, could do. He was found delivering us from the curse of our sins and the bondage of the Devil. “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the Devil” (1 John 3:8).
Where is He who is born king of the Jews? Many people looked for Jesus to be an earthly King ruling an earthly kingdom. When He did not fulfill their expectations they were no longer interested. But He was a king. He did go on to rule, but having finished His work, He is borne into Heaven in rightful glory.
In the centuries since the awesome days during which Jesus walked the earth, many people have rejected the gospel story of the Son of God made man. They do not believe that anyone was ever born a king from the Jewish people. Most Jews themselves place their hopes somewhere other than on Jesus Christ. But He is, truly, the King promised to Israel. However, His “Israel” is a spiritual people, a people ruled from above. For that is where Christ is now.
He who was born King of Israel is not bodily visible to the world, but is visible and real to us through faith. He is risen to the place of power at God’s right hand. From there, He rules over His people and for His people.
Where is our King? If He is in heaven is He distant from us? Is He merely a wishful thought, a product of our imagination to mold into whatever suits our pleasure?
Where, then, are we to find our king? He is present with us, and very accessible to all nations, through His Word and Sacraments. When we abide in His word, He abides in us. When we apply His sacrament of Baptism or partake of His Supper, He is here bestowing and sealing the promise that our sins are forgiven. He assures us our redemption is truth, that our salvation is accomplished. When the Wise Men found their King, the best they could offer Him was gold, frankincense, and myrrh. When our King finished His work here, He gave us even more precious treasures in the rich resources of His Word. He confirmed our salvation in His baptism, for “he who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). He gave us His love in the sacrament that shares with us His body and blood, “given and shed for you” (Luke 12:14ff). Let us never think that He is far away, or inaccessible.
Where is Jesus, the babe born to be king? He is no longer in Bethlehem, no longer in Jerusalem. He is nearer. He is in our hearts through faith. He dwells in our hearts, strengthening and building up our spirits.
The Wise Men came, paid a brief visit, and left again. But they didn’t leave unaffected or unchanged. They carried the sight of the Child with them. They carried with them the knowledge that God’s Word was certain and true.
When, through the words of Scripture, we come to the manger, or join the Wise Men, or follow the crowds of Galilee, or stand beneath the cross, or visit the empty tomb, we always take away a little more of Jesus. As we explore His Word, His power and grace grow within us for in our hearts we carry away the peace which our Priest has established between us and God. In our hearts He bestows the righteousness that gives us great boldness to approach God in His majesty and to step out into our world with confidence. In our hearts, our King has given us hope, leading the way to a heavenly joy. In our hearts, He gives the us life — life that cannot be smothered or die as long as He is found there. May this King be found within us all! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.