The Bright Morning Star. Epiphany Sermon.
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 2:1-11
January 6, 2013
“The Bright Morning Star”
In the Name of Jesus.
I, Jesus…am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star. Revelation 22: 14
The Aztecs were careful observers of the stars. They saw that the wandering star we know as Venus would appear in the morning just before dawn; then it would disappear for awhile and appear as the evening star. It seemed to come down onto the earth and then rise back into the sky again according to a regular pattern. It is said that the Aztecs believed that it was one of their gods becoming human and visiting earth before the dawn of a new age.
Many nations looked intently at the stars, and many had stories, like the Aztecs, which told of a coming golden age preceded by a ruler who would be like the morning star—the small light before the dawn. It sounds like the Gentile nations believed the story we are taught here—the story of the Gospel, the coming of God’s Son.
But our ancestors were in darkness. They searched the heavenly for knowledge of God and knowledge of the future. But long before they had turned away from the God Who is the maker of the stars, who says: Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing. (Isaiah 40: 26)
Our ancestors may have believed some things that sounded like the story you are taught here—the Gospel. But so do the pagans, the unbelievers, who live today. And there is a world of difference between a pagan funeral, where people say that their loved one is in a better place, and a Christian funeral, where we hear the minister say: I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. (John 11:25)
What is the great difference? That in the pagan funeral people comfort themselves with a hope that God has not given. The Christian funeral has a hope that the one and only God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, has given. He has given a word that gives us the right to hope and makes our hope certain.
God first gave the promise of the morning star to Adam and Eve, that an offspring of the woman would crush the head of the devil. But Cain despised and rejected that promise. Later, so did all the people on earth except for Noah. After the flood, the same thing happened again. Despising God’s promise, which is certain, people turned away and invented their own stories. When they despised God’s promise they were despising Christ. The majority of the world lost the knowledge of God and became lost in thick darkness.
But God called Abraham and promised him again that one of His offspring would bring blessing and salvation to the whole earth. He pointed Abraham to the heavens and told him that his descendants would be as many and as brilliant as the gleaming stars in the desert night. Abraham believed God, and God counted it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Abraham would have many descendants, but there would be one greater than them all—the Morning Star, whose appearing signaled the breaking of daylight upon the darkness.
In the Bible, angels and kings are often called “stars.” God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5), and the messengers He sends to speak His Word, and the rulers He sends to govern as His representatives are like little lights—stars. God promised to send a star—a human king—from the offspring of Jacob, who would rule the whole earth and bring the knowledge of God to the Gentiles. Later He revealed that this last king would come from the house of David.
Jesus is the morning star that marks the end of the darkness.
[1. The great glory of this morning star.]
When this king appeared, it would mean joy for the people of Israel. They were a small nation, constantly threatened by the power of great empires of violent people. Their only protection was the promise of God to save them from their enemies, so long as they were faithful to Him. But whenever pressure and temptation from the nations around them came, the Israelites were unfaithful. They worshipped other gods, thinking the Lord was not enough. Or they tried to depend on alliances with Gentile nations, which caused them to be influenced by the evil practices of the godless nations and which dishonored the Lord who had promised to save them.
So the Israelites received God’s chastisement. They were constantly suffering invasions and oppression by other nations. At last they were taken into captivity again in Babylon, as though they had never been the Lord’s people whom He set free from slavery in Egypt. Instead of honor, God’s presence among the people of Israel resulted in shame for them, as their unbelief resulted in punishment.
But in the Old Testament lesson, Isaiah tells how when the morning star, the Messiah comes, things will change for the Israelites.
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. 3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3)
The Gospel reading shows that the day had come. The morning star was born, the Messiah who signaled the end of the darkness. Foreign nations were appearing to worship the newborn king of the Jews.
But behold! Says Matthew. This is a shocking thing! The glory of the Lord has appeared on the physical descendants of Abraham. The long awaited promise has come! The day when glory and rejoicing instead of shame comes to the Israelites is here! But the Israelites are not arising, not rejoicing. At least, there are very few who are, hardly more than there are Gentiles, who are ignorant of the promise. A few shepherds in Bethlehem, a few ancient godly people in Jerusalem. But the leaders of the people don’t see the morning star rising—they know where the Messiah will come, but aren’t looking for Him and don’t know He’s there. Only a few Magi—wise men from a foreign religion, people raised in idolatry, people who perhaps have practiced fortune telling and astrology and other forms of witchcraft which God condemns.
How can this be? What does this mean?
Human beings are utterly in the dark, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. They do not know God and are not able to come to God, whether they have been raised with His Word or not. This is what we are taught in the Small Catechism under the third article of the creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith…”
God alone is able to give light to our unbelieving, rebellious, blind and dark hearts. Otherwise we are like the chief priests, who knew exactly where the morning star, the king of the Jews, was to be born, but were as much in the dark as the pagan nations. Or we are like Herod, who finds out about the King of the Jews only to try to get rid of him and keep his throne.
The glory of God has risen on the human race. It has come upon human beings. The dawn of everlasting life is about to break. Forgiveness of sins and the end of the devil’s reign has come. All this has happened because Mary’s baby, a true human being, one of us, is also the Son from heaven, very God of very God. He is David’s offspring but the root and creator of David, the bright morning star.
From Him the light of the eternal glory of God shines into the darkness of this creation and overshadows human beings. It has come upon us, because God is one of us; He shares our nature.
But God’s glory is not visible to human eyes. It is hidden. People do not see or feel that the baby sitting on the lap of Mary his mother is the glorious God, or that His birth means their salvation and deliverance from hell and from all that could harm them. If it was not proclaimed to us we would never know it.
But that is the glory of this child that is for us. We are in darkness and cannot approach God. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are not worthy to approach Him; we do not and cannot do His will.
But now He has become one of us. He freely gives us His glory. He gives us access to it and shares it with us. He has come to fulfill the will of God for human beings. He has come to fulfill all righteousness. He has come to keep God’s law. He has come to receive the penalty for sin.
He is the light of God’s face shining upon us, the certain guarantee from God of salvation for sinners.
He is the bright morning star. His coming means the darkness of hell and sin and death is as good as dead. Just as the morning star appears and tells those who understand that day is about to break, this bright morning star to which the Magi are led is the sign that light has broken upon us. The glory of God is already yours, even though darkness and gloom still surrounds you, even lives in your heart. It is yours in Jesus.
The wise men came and opened splendid treasures fit for a king—the perfume and rare medicine of myrrh that is used to embalm the dead and heal wounds. The frankincense that was used to make sweet smoke in the worship of the temple. The gold which adorns the houses of kings.
But Jesus opens still greater treasures to us. These treasures are not visible to the eye, because they are spiritual treasures that come from the treasure house of God.
He gives the healing balm of righteousness to our nature that takes away death and destroys the illness of sin living in our flesh.
He gives us the incense of pure prayer to God. Through Him we come to God with prayers that are fully acceptable, sweet and pleasing. Through faith in Him we are a sweet savor to God.
He gives us the gold of His kingship; He makes us share in His reign.
[2. How the light of this morning star is seen]
The magi were led by a miraculous star. But the star led them to the Word.
The physical, heard word leads us to the invisible light and glory of Christ.
Not an inner light but an external word pointing to a visible being—a child, and later a man, crucified, dead, buried.
Now the word leads us to Him, to the invisible glory that is ours in Him, as it comes in the water of baptism and the body and blood in the bread and wine.
That’s why we kneel at the altar. It is not a symbol that comes to us, but the morning star, who makes the glory of God ours now; and soon the day will break upon us forever. Amen
The peace of God…
- The Blessing of Abraham. Advent 2 Midweek. (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Come to the Light: The Readings for Epiphany (thesacredpage.com)