People like to ask God why' questions and think they have reason for distaining Him when He doesn't answer them. It's more profitable to ask why' questions of ourselves on this Festival of Epiphany.
Why if Christ is such a mystery as Paul says am I not in awe? Paul states the mystery of Christ he refers to is that through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs with Christ. Big yawn, right? Why aren't I more enthused? Why aren't I at least interested enough to look into what that exactly means? Why should the apostle Paul be so inspired to use 3 different Greek words to express the mystery? "This mystery is that through the Gospel, the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise of Christ Jesus." Hear all that "togetherness" being expressed?
Then why aren't I on the edge of my seat like I am watching or reading a good mystery? Why am I nonplused, nonchalant, unenthused by what Paul regards a startling mystery? One, because I take it for granted that salvation is for the Gentiles. God didn't. That was a big deal. Paul uses the analogy in Romans of a wild olive tree being grafted to a domestic one. In Galatians he makes a distinction between being a Jew by birth and being a sinful Gentile. In Ephesians Paul describes Gentiles this way, "They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more."
Jews you might say were raised in the church. They had messed up their theology, but to them belong the prophets, the liturgy, the hymns. Gentiles were raised outside of the church. You know this difference. You know people who were raised in church verses those to whom the experience of being in church is strange and hostile. God took the saving of this kind of person seriously, and it took nothing less than the sending of His only Son. O, but it took that to save the Jews. True, it takes surgery to save from an appendicitis or a ruptured aorta, but one is harder than the other. Both the shoplifter and the murderer are going to jail, but whose guilt and punishment would you rather bear?
Why do I have this lack of awe, of wonder, of thrill when Paul writes of the mystery of Christ that through His innocent life and holy death even Gentiles can go to heaven? It's not a Jew/Gentile thing as a much as a meh' about salvation. Meh is sound that is actually a word. Well depending on your source its first use as a word only dates to the 1994 Simpsons, but others say as an expression it dates to the late 1800s. Be that as it may, meh expresses lack of interest or mild disappoint.
I can't imagine traveling for two years on a camel in search of my king. I can't imagine bowing down before a baby and worshipping him. But that's what the Magi did, isn't it? But some won't travel 20 minutes in a car to get to where they know their King will be for sure on Sunday morning. And what about bowing in worship before a baby? Don't I bow at this altar? Don't I kneel in adoration here? Don't I sing praise to the Lord who comes here? While they Magi saw their King, God, and Savior in a flesh and blood Baby, I see my flesh and blood God come to save me in Bread and Wine. Unless I'm just going through the motions? Unless the matter of my God being here to save me is no more than a meh?
Asking myself why' questions is more uncomfortable than asking them of God. Why if Christ is so rich do I feel poor? Paul says that he preaches "the unsearchable riches of Christ." Other translations have Christ's riches as unending,' immeasurable,' unfathomable,' infinite,' wonderful,' and boundless.' No matter how you translate it the question remains: if Paul says Christ is this rich and I'm a Christian why do I feel so poor that my favorite hymn is "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me?"
It's because I think I can search the unsearchable riches of Christ. I've gotten to the end of his unending riches; I've measured the immeasurable, fathomed the unfathomable, defined the infinite, and bound the boundless in my puny little mind. One only knows the value of forgiveness if one has sins he can't pay for. One only knows the cost of eternal life if one has expended all he has to extend his own but still finds himself dying. If I am able to forgive myself, the chief end of our society by the way, what value can I place on the blood, sweat, and tears Jesus expended to forgive my sins? If I am able by diet, exercise, medicine, and doctor visits to feel like I'm going to live forever with little decaying and less dying, why do I need the abundant life Jesus said He died to bring me?
Why can't I see myself like the Magi? Although we don't know how much gold, incense, and myrrh they gave, we do know that they intended them as gifts for a king and traveled two years to lay them at His feet. I don't think they laid a gold chain, a pinch of incense, and a dab of myrrh for the King they worshipped. So why do I continually value the spiritual less than the material? Why have I talked myself out of a dozen sacrifices of material things in thanksgiving for or in honor of something spiritual?
I can only conclude, as we postmodern like to say, that "I'm not there yet." "I'm can't go there." Where? To the place where what pertains to my limited physical life here is not more important or even as important as my unending spiritual life. To the place where the loss of my sins and sinfulness for Jesus' sake are worth more than anything I could ever gain. To the place where being bought and brought out from under the heavy demands of the Law is not even worth comparing to anything I might have in this life: be it possessions, pride, or position in the world.
Something made these Magi who were welcomed into an earthly king's court and comfortable there, push their faces into the ground before a baby, worship Him, and give their treasurers to Him. It wasn't fear. It wasn't guilt. It had to be thanksgiving, relief, love. To paraphrase yet another postmodern prophet, "I wanna know what [such] love is." I have literally pushed my face into the ground and had it pushed to win military honors. I have worshipped at the altar of what is popular and powerful in this life. I given up treasure for the sake of earthly gain, and I didn't come away thankful, relived, or loving.
Why? Why if as Paul says "we may approach God through faith in Jesus with freedom and confidence," am I so timid and doubtful? I got a better question why does our translation make a "may" out of a "have." There is no "may" about it. The Greek is, "We have boldness and confident access through faith in Him." I suppose that makes it even worse. Why if Paul says I do have, not might have, "freedom and confidence" through Jesus to approach God Almighty, am I still timid and doubtful?
Because I approach through "my faith" not "through the faith of Jesus." The text doesn't say "through faith in Him" but "through the faith of Jesus." That can mean through the Faith, the doctrine, the teaching, the truth about Jesus or it can mean I can approach freely and confidently based on the fact that Jesus' believes. That fits with Jesus praying before others, "I know that You always hear Me." I know that Scripture says God hears the prayers of all in Christ, but timidity and doubtfulness cloud that promise. So I pray based on the fact that Jesus knew and believed He was always heard.
Why am I frightful and unsure about approaching God in Jesus' faith? Because when I approach I don't stay in Jesus. "In Him" says Paul "we have approach to God freely and confidently." I don't stay in Jesus. I step out of my Baptism where Galatians 3 says Christ was put on me. I step out of His Word where He says that for Christ's sake He has separated me from my sins as far as east is from west. I step out of those words and say, "O no you haven't; I see my sins right there and there I am too."
Why don't I use the access I have to Almighty God with the freedom and confidence that Paul says I have, not may have, could have, but do have in Christ? Because I step outside of Jesus by stepping out of His commands and promises. He commands, "Call upon me in the day of trouble," and promises, "I will deliver you," but I go with my gut, stick with my feelings. He commands, "Take eat; take drink of My Body and Blood," and promises these were given and shed for me to give me forgiveness, life and salvation, but I with false, feigned, or misguided piety say, "Who am I to eat and drink with my King, and God, and Savior?"
Why on earth did the Magi believe they would get an audience with their King, and God and Savior? Why did they think He would accept their gifts and worship? Because God had guided them to His Christ my means of a star. We simply don't know enough about how the star worked or how the Magi knew they were to follow it, but we know they did follow it, were disappointed when it disappeared, and were overjoyed when it reappeared.
You have more reasons than the Magi to come to this House to find your King, God, and Savior. He Himself invites you saying, "Come unto Me all you who are burdened and heavy laden." That means your weights and your loads are your invite. He says, "Whoever confesses his sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive them." That means that aching, disgusting sinfulness is your invite to come here and lose your sins in the Absolution. He says that He was sent for the sinful and lost. That means your sins and lostness are your star to guide you hear.
Why am I not more like the Magi? I will be when, by God's grace, I see what they saw on Mary's lap. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Festival of Epiphany (20150104); Ephesians 3: 2-12