Posted by guest blogger Fr. D.
St. Matthew 2:1–12
You will notice right away that the lessons posted for the sermon do not agree with the Mass lessons just read, and this will no doubt cause you to wonder what is going on. The Isaiah lesson is one of the Morning Prayer lessons for today, so you are supposed to have already read that one; did you? The Gospel lesson from St. Matthew is the lesson appointed for Epiphany, this past Wednesday, which happens to fit better with what I intend to talk about.
We are now in the season of Epiphany, the third season of the Church year, following Advent and Christmasstide. This year Epiphany will include three Sundays, this being the first. The word epiphany means manifestation or showing forth, and it refers to the manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. In His earthly ministry, Jesus was seen by the Gentiles on a number of occasions, but the first time is the one particularly remembered at this time, the visit of the Magi to the manger in Bethlehem. Let us review the Gospel account:
Matthew 2:1-12 1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. 7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. 9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
This is a familiar lesson, well known to all who have been practicing Christians for any length of time. I would call your attention particularly to the fact, however, that the Wise Men were Gentiles, not Jews; they came from a land far away in the East. After they had seen the Christ, they returned to their own country, again, pointing to the fact that they were from the outside world, so to speak. Thus we truly have the first time Christ is made manifest to the Gentile world, as a new born babe in the manger at Bethlehem. Incidentally, Luke 2 records the first manifestation of Christ to the Jews with the visit of the Judean shepherds to the manger, an event in some ways like the visit of the Magi.
Now let us consider modern man, modern Christians. Have you ever encountered the modern Christian who says in one form or another, “I’m going to be a Christian, but I’m going to do it my way, on my own terms. I cannot trust other people on something of such importance as this. I have to learn it all for myself. I have my Bible, and I will dig it all out for myself.” I am pretty certain that you have; I know that I have met many. The best of them study diligently and come to know the Bible rather well. But do they know God? How do we come to know God on a personal basis? In prayer and in the sacraments of the Church. In Bible study we come to know about God, about the nature of God, about His power, His glory, His marvelous acts, His mercy, His love for mankind, and most of all, the Plan of Salvation, but we only come to know Him personally in prayer and worship.
This brings us to consider the Collect for the Day:
O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people who call upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
When we pray, we ask first of all that the Lord God hear our prayers. If our prayers are not heard, they are entirely in vain. We pray, not because we understand what God wants of us, but rather because we want to understand what God’s will is for us, that is, that we may understand what God intends for us to do. But notice that we pray first, seeking understanding, not praying after having the understanding. And then we pray also for the grace and strength to carry out the will of God for our lives.
This Collect has been suggested to be the origin of the Latin maxim Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi that is attributed to Prosper of Aquitaine, a 5th century contemporary of St. Celestine. Very roughly translated, the maxim is, The Law of Praying is the Law of Believing. More fully stated, it means that how we worship and pray defines what we believe and the way we live our lives. In particular, if our worship is correct, then our belief is correct, and conversely, if our worship is misdirected and in error, so will our lives be also.
It says that when we change the way we worship, we necessarily change the content of our belief. If you have any doubts about the truth of this statement, look at the effects of the “liturgical renewal movement” that has swept the entire Christian Church since the 1960s, and ask yourself if Christian faith has remained unchanged since the 1950s.
As an example of “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi” in application, consider the lesson from Isaiah 60:1 Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. This is a call to worship, but it is a call to worship in a particular way, the form prescribed by the Lord of Hosts. It does not depend at all on our making it up as we go along, but rather that we shine, or reflect back, the Light which is Christ, that we receive in complete wonder and awe as He comes upon us in His glory. Again, nothing depends upon our knowledge or understanding, but rather everything comes from the Light of Christ as that Light dispels the darkness of our sin.
Going further, the Lord makes a promise: Isaiah 60:3 And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. If we come to that Light, to worship Christ, the Light of the World, we will become part of that Light. We will reflect that Light, and serve to call others to that Light, that they too may worship and then believe. But notice that the movement is always from prayer and worship first to belief, understanding, and service of God afterwards. The rest of the Isaiah passage is about the people of the world coming to worship and know the true God.
The reading from Isaiah foretells exactly what is described in the Gospel lesson, the visit of the Magi to the manger in Bethlehem. As we read previously, 11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. They did not come asking questions and demanding answers. No, they fell down and worshipped Him, with prayer and with sacrificial gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. By undertaking their long journey, guided only by a single star, they had shown that their lives were properly oriented, and when they came into the presence of the Lord of the Universe, they acted accordingly; they fell down and worshipped Him. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi!
The role of right worship is so very critical in our faith lives. Many people fail to recognize this fact, but few things could be of any greater importance to our eternal destiny than how we worship. It is not a matter of just what makes me feel good, where I like the preacher, where my friends are, where I like the music, or any of the other things that are about “me.” It has to be about where God can be truly found and worshipped in Spirit and in Truth.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.