Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
When I was young I was, as many were, taken to church by my father. I was not particularly keen on the experience and when I asked how long it would last, I would be told: “Longer than that.”
It was not particularly informative, but then at that state of religious indifference even 5 minutes would be too long.
But the enigma remains: for often when we ask the Lord about something, we definitely get an answer but we often have to wait for it and then we have to recognize it when it comes and indeed we have to understand it.
But here there is also a mystery. They came looking for a king and were pointed to a baby. They started in the royal palace and ended up in the stables of a suburb of Jerusalem.
They came bearing gifts that ever afterwards have been seen as prophetic in pointing to the nature and character of the one born King of the Jews.
And their gifts would all be liable to being spent or used while the King they sought would give eternal life and forgiveness and healing.
Yet they were also the starting point of something worldwide. The shepherds had been the local farmers and they were granted a vision of God’s plan in the rejoicing angels and in the truth of their message.
But the kings were the first of the nations around Israel to see this thing and they had to be willing to see beyond the might of Rome and the brutality of Herod and the richness of the traders and to find salvation and new life in the simplicity and helplessness of the infant Jesus.
But there is something else. It was Jesus’ parents who presented Him to be seen by the kings. They held Him in their arms, they fed Him, cleaned Him, protected Him.
In short they provided the context in which Jesus was to be seen by Israel and by the world.
But now the task has changed, and it is the church that has the task of showing Jesus to the world.
It is the church that holds His word and sacraments, and which presents Jesus to the kings and shepherds of the day.
It is the church that has the potential to reveal Him – in its relationships, and actions and in its teaching and preaching.
Equally it can also conceal Him in embarrassment that His message may not be in tune with the political and cultural attitudes and institutions of the time.
And for the church read you and me. And there are three aspects that we can think about.
- Christ Jesus as King: as Lord and teacher of all, above all earthly powers. A challenge to the morals of rulers and the source of freedom and forgiveness. Not popular with regimes more intent on control and exploitation.
- Christ Jesus as Priest: he came to fulfil the scriptures – and His death and resurrection validate those same scriptures of the Old Testament as well as being truly represented by the scriptures of the New Testament. He also came to offer Himself as the ultimate sacrifice before God. This is not popular with those who wish to co-opt Him into their programmes without receiving and living in His.
- Christ Jesus as one born to suffer: whoever said that salvation was to be without cost? The gift is made freely and is received freely – but at the cost of Jesus’ own life on the cross. And we also will find the cross in our own lives, to which there are no simple answers, even when we cry out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?”
Jesus never lets us away with cheap and simplistic answers – He will never yield on the truth. So we end up with paradox, for our minds need time to enter the truths that He wants us to receive.
As we present Jesus to the world, we will find our own encounters with Jesus as King, as Priest and as sacrifice.
We will find it in our own lives and we will find it as we seek the Lord together.
It’s a tough call – but is there any alternative?