NRS Matthew 2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
The 500th year of the Reformation will be celebrated October 31, 2017.
Finishing a presidential election (where everyone was at least happy the election is finally over) makes a discussion about kings somewhat timely. Americans, of course, do not need kings. We have a “double speak” in the church… such as “in the world, but not of the world,” “I am at once saint and sinner,” and “I am complete free in Christ and yet a slave to sin.” These items which are mutually exclusive and on their face contradictory are called the Lutheran dialectic. We speak with split personality about how the world works within the reign of God… again, a dialectic which says we share dual citizenship within our trust in Christ.
That has always been true. The earliest church struggled with how to understand their position; giving ‘due regard’ to the Roman authorities who also persecuted them while remaining true to the faith was a fact of life. Paul in Romans 13 speaks of our being under the authority of the state as instituted by God. We are to be good citizens, yet, as Jesus says- render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. (See Matthew 12). It is clear we answer and act first as servants of Christ. There we understand that Christ’s example is the framework for all we do. See Romans 14. To be the greatest, we must be the servant of all. The first are the last and indeed the last are first. We are wise as serpents, yet gentle as doves. Who thinks up these things?
These are uncomfortable ideas. Luther was wise to recognize that clarity and reality do not always coincide with faith and truth regarding God’s inscrutable nature. The death to which we have already been judged in our sin even makes the resurrection seem contrary. That, however, is how God had chosen to act. Even death serves God’s purpose. It shows God who remains hidden and mysterious is fully present and revealed in Christ.
When the wise men came… more nearly we should only call them magi… they came with the notion that human wisdom discerned the divine. In a way, yes, they had. The star was revelatory, but it only showed heaven pointed to this child whose future affected all of creation. There is a movie called “The Fourth Wiseman”. In an indirect way, it shows the gradual unfolding of the purpose of this child that consumes the life of the fourth magi who missed the caravan and always “just misses” the child until the cross. There, the actions of the fourth magi’s lifetime start to take meaning. It shows God’s stubborn intention to bring a sinful humanity to see the love and grace that comes in God’s Son. Yes, this movie has NO Biblical bases; it does however help us to see that the story we hear EVERY CHRISTMAS EVE remains wrapped in wonder and mystery. The birth of this child does not show the fullness of Christ. The death of the man called Jesus on the cross shows heaven and earth shaken to bring humanity to realization. That realization is not true even now. Even for the faithful, “we see but dimly in the mirror.”
Advent will have some twists. We will explore the music and lessons with an eye to these thoughts and the mystery which Christmas invites us to explore so we too are watching for the child who is the Way, the Truth, and the Light. Invite others to this journey. Wise people would do that.
With blessings… Pastor Joe