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Seven Scenes from the Advent-Christmas Story: Wise Men Worshipping
Matthew 2:1-11


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Advent Service IV—December 21, 2011

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The theme for our services during Advent this year has been, “Seven Scenes from the Advent-Christmas Story,” including, “John Preaching,” “Shepherds Watching,” “Angels Singing,” “Mary Praising.” “Joseph Dreaming,” and “Herod Fearing.”  We conclude with this evening’s Gospel Reading, and the story of “Wise Men Worshipping.”

“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’ . . .  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.’”

The “Wise Men” are also known as the “Magi,” which is short for “magicians.”  Although their special knowledge and abilities may have seemed like magic, really they were the scientists of their day, not actually kings themselves, but an elite group of advisors to the kings of the ancient east, who passed down their special knowledge from generation to generation of wise men.

Some six centuries before, Daniel and the other leading young men of Israel had been taken captive and trained as wise men in Babylon.  It was expected that the wise men from every nation would share the unique, special wisdom of their particular people.  So, it was no doubt Daniel who shared with the wise men of the east the Hebrew Scriptures, and imparted to this elite group the greatest wisdom of the Hebrew people: one day a Messiah would come, the God-man, the Savior of the whole world, born among the Hebrew people.

That is the source of Wise Men’s astute theological insight and astounding confession of faith.  They knew and trusted the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament, which they had learned from the Hebrew Scriptures, brought from Jerusalem centuries before, explained to them by Daniel, and passed down since from generation to generation of wise men.  They fell down and worshipped the Babe of Bethlehem because Isaiah had prophesied: “The Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel,” which means, “God with us”; “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given . . . and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

That is why the Wise Men offer to the Babe of Bethlehem their gifts of gold and frankincense.  Gold is their confession that he is the King of King, worthy to wear a king’s golden crown.  As the carol says, “Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain, gold I bring to crown Him again, King forever, ceasing never over us all to reign.”

Frankincense was burned in ancient temples as an offering to the gods, and so the Wise Men’s gift of frankincense is their confession that he is more than a great king, he is God, come down to earth and made man.  As the carol says, “Frankincense to offer have I, incense owns a Deity nigh, prayer and praising, all men raising, worship Him, God on high.”

But, it is the final gift that really shows the depth of the wise men’s theological insight and understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures.  For, Isaiah had also prophesied about the Messiah: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. . .  Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.  We observed him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

“Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom; sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb.”  Myrrh is the Wise Men’s confession that they also understand this newborn King will grow up to suffer and die for the sins of mankind.  For, myrrh is a rather strange gift to give a baby.  It was used in ancient times to anoint bodies for burial.  In modern terms the Wise Men essentially gave this little child a jar of embalming fluid.  That is their confession of what they know he is destined for.  As another carol says, “Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you.”

The Good News of Christmas is that the Babe of Bethlehem was born to be your Savior.  God’s own Son came down to earth and was made man to fulfill God’s plan of salvation for you, by living a perfect life in your place, and by suffering and dying in your place upon the cross. The Good News of Christmas is that God the Father has accepted his Son’s life and death as a sacrifice on your behalf.  Your sins are all forgiven; his life, death, and resurrection makes you worthy of eternal life in heaven. 

“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’ . . .  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.’”  “Glorious now behold him arise, King, and God, and Sacrifice!”

Amen.

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