Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. What are your expectations for this coming year? Did you make New Year’s resolutions? Are you planning to eat healthier, maybe exercise more, maybe go to bed a little earlier? There’s a couple of projects around your house that you’ve been meaning to get to and haven’t quite crossed off the list yet, but this is the year that you’re going to do it. What are your expectations for the next 12 months? Expectations can be a funny thing. On the one hand, you need them, they’re absolutely necessary part of a healthy life. If you don’t learn from your past experience you, don’t grow as a person. If your experience has taught you that getting five hours of sleep just isn’t enough, you could expect to have a bad day at work if you don’t get to bed early enough. If expectation or experience has taught you that it takes 20 minutes for you to get to work, and you leave 10 minutes before your shift starts, you know you’re not going to make it on time. If experience has taught you that a certain person is not really trustworthy well then your expectations ought to shape your behavior toward that person. Expectations are part of our everyday life. Sometimes they’re flexible, especially if we don’t have enough experience with something to form a conclusion about it yet, other times our expectations are immovable, especially if we’re convinced, if we feel like we’ve been through a situation so many times, that we know exactly what is going to happen next. So, on the one hand, expectations are good and necessary, but there are other times when our expectations blind us to different possible outcomes. There’s time where our expectations are flat out wrong, and in fact could prevent us from something good. Just think of the child who’s never tasted a specific food and their expectation is that they won’t like, but there’s a chance that child will end up loving that food. They’ll never know, but they let expectation determine their diet. Expectations. Sometimes they’re an asset, sometimes they’re a crutch, and today I wonder what exactly those wise men were expecting when they set out to follow that star. We sometimes think of them as the three kings of Orient are, but scripture never calls them kings. Matthew calls them magi, the same root word that we get the English word magic or magician. They’re likely astronomers of some kind, scholastics of some kind, not kings. I mean if they were kings Herod would certainly have greeted them with a more kingly reception, probably would have even gone to Bethlehem with them because Harod was nothing, if not politically savvy. He would never have insulted visiting royalty by sending them off on an errand for himself. Neither does the Bible actually say there were three of them, only that they brought three gifts. It could have been two, could have been ten, there could have been dozens, we don’t know, but what we do know is that, according to Matthew, magi from the east set out to follow the star. I wonder what they expected to find at the end of their trail. It seems likely they expected to find something noteworthy, otherwise they wouldn’t have made such a journey. It seems likely they expected to find something more impressive than the tiny village of Bethlehem, after all, when they left to follow the star, they went first to Jerusalem, they went to the city of the palace, to the city of the king, they went to Jerusalem the city of the temple, and the high priest, the capital city, the place where all foreign dignitary would have gone, the place that was the economic center of the whole region, the place that had been the center of the Jewish universe for 1000 years. Seems reasonable to expect the Messiah to be in such a place. Jerusalem is the city of God, the place of Mount Zion, and yet, the Messiah was not there. In fact the scripture seemed to indicate that no one in Jerusalem was even aware of the star, of the possibility that the Messiah had been born. The city of God was completely oblivious to what God was actually doing. And when the wise men asked about the one born king of the Jews they were sent to Bethlehem. That would be like someone from a distant land coming to the United States and going to New York or Los Angeles or Washington DC to find the promised child, and instead being told, no you need to go to Espanola, or you need to go to Socorro. That’s where you’ll find him. It defies expectation. Why would one so important as the Christ not be found in a place as significant as Jerusalem? Why would the Messiah be in Bethlehem? But unlike the stubborn child who refuses to try a new food, the magi were not slaves to their expectations. They heard the word of God and they believed it. The prophet Micah spoke of Bethlehem in the land of Judah, so they went to Bethlehem, even though it seems to all appearances, to be least among the rulers of Judah. But you see that’s what faith does. Faith hears the word of God, and it trusts the word of God, and it follows the word of God, even if it leads it into places it never expected to be. That’s what the faith of the magi did. That’s what our faith does too. It clings to God’s word and is thereby lead to the place where Christ is for you. This world has many expectations about how God should act, what God should be like, where God should be found. So often we unwittingly follow these expectations, and allow these expectations to shape our own. The world expects God to be fair and just and so its cries follow, whenever it sees something unfair happening. This world’s understanding of justice is not the same as our Lords, except in the world’s idea of justice we’re tempted to cry foul, to claim to be victims every time something bad happens to us, every time something hard enters our lives, never allowing for the possibility that there is no such thing as an innocent person before God for there is no one who is righteous, not even one. As we said a few moments ago, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We have sinned in our thought, word, and deed, by what we have done by what we have left undone, and that we actually deserve God’s punishment both right here and now, as well as into eternity. This world expects God to be loving, according to their definition of love, which basically amounts to nothing more than expecting God to affirm our every choice, to allow us to follow our hearts desires, even as they lead us away from him. So we find it difficult to speak out against sin, opting instead for silence and calling it tolerance, pretending that loving action is to simply coexist, as we silently watch loved ones follow paths that will lead them off a cliff, too afraid to say something for fear that we might hurt someone’s feelings, or worse they might point out our sin. How quickly and how easily the world’s expectations of God become our expectations of God. But the faith of the wise men trusted God word above the expectation of men, and then they found themselves in the presence of the Christ. Our Lord’s word speaks to our faith today, breaking down our worldly expectations, and giving us Jesus instead. So as we celebrate epiphany today, and in the weeks to come, take a moment to remember what we’re celebrating. That word epiphany has to do with perception, has to do with insight, the moment when the proverbial light bulb goes on above your head, and you finally get it. The season of epiphany in the Christian Church deals with God helping us understand who he truly is, showing us who Christ really is, not simply the Jesus of our expectations, because I just told the kids if Christmas is the season where God gave the greatest gift ever to the world, epiphany is the season where he unwraps it for us, so we can see what it is, and our expectations fall away like the bows and ribbons and wrapping paper under your Christmas tree, and you see the real Jesus. We see the child visited by men from the east, and worshipped as king of the Jews. We see the Lamb of God step into the waters of the Jordan river to fulfill all righteousness, he baptized into our sin, that we might be baptized into his righteousness, he into our death, that we might join him in life. We see the king of creation turn water into wine, the first of his signs that point people to the truth about his identity, that he is the son of God. We see him transfigured at the top of the mountain, shining with the glory that dims the sun, before finally seeing the fullest revelation of the Father’s love as he comes down from that mountain, climbs up on a cross to die the death that we deserve, in order that we might live the life that we don’t. That’s Jesus as God reveals him to us. That’s the Jesus revealed to us throughout epiphany, and that’s the real Jesus. The Jesus who comes to us today in ways that defy our expectations, the Jesus that comes to us today through his word, and not just sitting down and reading the Bible, but coming through all of his word, other devotional materials that show you God’s law and gospel, sitting here in this room, hearing the proclamation of God’s word for you, singing it to each other. When your children tell you stories about Jesus that they heard in Sunday school, this is all God coming to you through his word, proclaiming to you who Jesus is, to give you faith, and to strengthen your faith. Coming to you in his body and blood of the sacrament, of this altar, to strengthen you in faith toward him and love toward others. Small piece of bread, the sip of wine might not make the world’s expectations of greatness, but this is who our Lord has promised to be for us, come to us here as we worship together, gather together as the body of Christ in this place, kneeling together to confess our sin. Together, we hear the voice of other sinners, confessing their sin reminded that we’re not alone. We received the gift of forgiveness, reminder that the sinners around us are forgiven too, just as we are forgiven, and we set out to live in that forgiveness. Gathered here in the name of Jesus, he is among us as his people. When the world looks in from the outside, it just sees a gathering of like-minded individuals, but the reality exceeds the expectation. This is the dwelling place of our Lord. He is here through the words we sing as we praise him, as we encourage each other, as we teach each other. This is where and this is how our Lord comes to us. So Satan would have you doubt, he would have us worship our expectations instead of worshipping our Lord. He would have us stubbornly dig in our heels on the steps of the palaces of the world and demand that the king of the universe come to us there, in ways the world would respect and admire, but that’s not the God we have. Satan would have us act like a mule, and refused to be brought to Bethlehem, instead defiantly remaining in the temple courts of Jerusalem, demanding that our Lord show himself in the biggest and most recognizable religious buildings and institutions of our time, things the world would acknowledge, things the world would be proud of. But that’s not the Lord we have. We have the one found in the manger of Bethlehem, and so we follow the example of the magi. Don’t let the deceiver fool you into believing God only comes to you through grand displays of health and wealth and prosperity. Then rejoice in the one who is here for you now in his word, and his supper, in his church, the real Jesus. That’s the one who defies the world’s expectations, in order that he might give us more than the world can, more than we’ve ever dreamed. This is the real Jesus who saves us. This is Jesus for you. In God’s name, Amen.
Sunday, January 7th, 2024