Sermon: Seeking A Miracle
Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25; 2:1-12
Today is Epiphany Sunday in the church. It is the Sunday which marks the culmination of the the 12 days of Christmas, though that is really January 6. And it is the Sunday when we celebrate the coming of the wise men or the kings to the manger of the baby Jesus after a long journey from their homeland following the path of the ancient prophecies and a star that led them to Bethlehem.
We call it Epiphany Sunday, in part, because it gives a sense of the suddenness of the divine intervention into our world. But if we study this word epiphany we discover that it is often a word associated with science and that in that meaning it does not refer to a sudden discovery but rather to a discovery that comes after a prolonged period of study. An example often used is Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity. We sometimes think that Newton had an epiphany when he saw the apple fall to the ground but the truth is the discovery came after a long period of study on Newton’s part. His epiphany was the proof of what he had long before hypothesized and was trying to prove. And so it was for the Wise Men, I think.
Their discovery of the Christ Child was not a sudden Epiphany. They came seeking a miracle. They had long before hypothesized that the Christ would be born and their Epiphany was the culmination of a long journey both physically and spiritually. So it often is for us when we come to our own epiphany concerning the presence of Christ in our lives, I think. Make no mistake about it, a miracle occurred that day, two millennium ago, in Bethlehem. A baby was born. And so that the world might not forget, we have two accounts of it, by Matthew the Jewish tax collector, and Luke the Greek physician. Their stories don’t differ much. Only as the stories of the birth of our children might differ in the telling from mother to father. Matthew told Joseph’s story and Luke gave us Mary’s account. And this much is clear from both accounts, a miracle happened that day. In fact, the whole story, as told by both Matthew and Luke is the stuff of miracles. Angels appearing, a virgin mother, and pious Jew like Joseph willing to set aside his piety for the young maiden, the old woman previously thought barren carrying John the Baptist, the baby John leaping in the womb as soon as Mary came near. But none of this was really a sudden Epiphany. It was a long awaited and much anticipated miracle that took place that day.
God did not suddenly decide to come into the world that night in Bethlehem. It all unfolded like the prophets had spoke of down through the centuries. Everything about these stories spoke of a long awaited miracle. But you know many things in life that are eagerly awaited, don’t ever live up to their expectations. We talk about the big game for days. We surround it with hype. Once it is finally played, it rarely is up to our expectations. Our celebration of Christmas is like that sometimes. We prepare, celebrate and anticipate. But when it comes, it often falls short of our expectations.
The birth of this child is a miracle. It’s the miracle of life. I wonder if Joseph understood that when he held Jesus for the first time. But sometimes the miracle has another side. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes death intrudes upon the miracle of life. Either immediately, or as it was for Jesus, the stage is set for the miracle of life to be cut short all too soon. For a long time it troubled me to see crosses mixed in with nativity scenes at Christmas time. Crosses have no place in the midst of the miracle of Bethlehem. But now I understand that from the moment of conception, this miracle child was destined to die. And that the divine Epiphany could not be completed without the cross.
Matthew tells us that a miracle happened in Bethlehem. But wait, he says. Because this miracle child, Jesus, is born to die. He came to “save all people from their sins.” For centuries God had tried to rescue His creation from our sinful condition, but all those efforts had failed. And so the only way was for God to become one of us, and be sacrificed on the altar of forgiveness. Bethlehem was only the beginning of the miracle that would be completed on Calvary many years later. I can’t imagine the pain of knowing that your baby was born to die a premature death, but Joseph and Mary knew it all along. It was part of their Epiphany.
As the wise men came and brought their gifts to pay homage to the miracle child, Mary and Joseph knew that the angels who sang of His birth would one day guard His tomb. That this miracle child was not just a miracle of life, but would also be a miracle in death. Jesus was a miracle for all eternity. Humanities long siege at the hands of evil was over and sin had been defeated. It was all part of the miracle of Bethlehem. All part of the Epiphany. And the angels proclaimed it and the shepherds witnessed it and the wise men sought it.
Centuries ago, the people of Greece were at war with the people of Troy. For ten years, the Greek army surrounded the city of Troy, and though their forces were superior, the Greeks could not penetrate the city walls and defeat the people of Troy. The walls stood strong and the people inside resolute. And so the Greeks devised a daring plan. They built a giant, wooden horse, and inside they placed several of their best warriors, and then they rolled it to the gates of Troy in the middle of the night and boarded their ships and sailed out of sight. When the people of Troy awoke the next day, the first thing they noticed was that the Greeks were gone and then noticed that they had left this, what they interpreted as a gift of peace, this giant wooden statue of a horse. And so they opened the gates of the city and rolled the horse statue inside. When nightfall came again, the warriors of Greece emerged and did what ten years of siege could not, they defeated Troy from within.
Well, for centuries, God had battled the evil that infested man. Man had erected walls to keep God out. And so God attacked from the outside. He sent floods, and fire and prophets to lay siege, but evil would not be defeated. And so finally, on a dark and silent night, He sent a gift of peace to mankind, and inside He placed love and compassion and forgiveness, He placed His son at the threshold of each person’s heart. And in the hearts of those who open the gates and let Him in, love and compassion and forgiveness are let loose, and do what those on the outside could never do, they defeat the sinful nature of humanity from within, once and for all. And so a miracle happened two millennium ago in Bethlehem. Hear the good news, it finds its fulfillment every time someone opens their heart and lets Him in.
This is Epiphany Sunday in the church. The Sunday that we celebrate the coming of the wise men to the baby Jesus. They came bearing gifts, and so our Christmas celebration is all about giving gifts. But today we celebrate by receiving the gift of a Savior. The gift of life, eternal life. Because this miracle child was born to give us His body and His blood, to die so that we might live forever. And every time we come to kneel at this altar and receive these elements, we recall the miracle that happened in Bethlehem, and found it’s fulfillment on the Cross of Calvary. We come seeking Jesus. So come and experience the child of Bethlehem which became the miracle of Calvary.