Epiphany

 

"I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh there shall come a Star out of Jacob and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel." Numbers 24:17

 

Thus speaks one pagan sorcerer, who was called to curse one tribe in Israel, but through the powerful effects of God he had to bless. He saw also afar off in a future time the Saviour pictured before his eyes, although this vision was so dim that he could not separate the natural kingdom from the kingdom of Heaven. He saw as in a fog that a Star arose out of Jacob and a sceptre out of Israel, but what star this was and what kind of a sceptre it was, that he could not explain. If we take other places of the Bible for a guide, then we find that a star in a spiritual sense is one spiritual light which shows the travelers where the road goes to heaven, when they travel in the shadows of darkness, and if this star did not lead the travelers to eternity, they would become lost. That this star rose out of Jacob, it signifies that the spiritual light came into the world out of the tribe of Jacob, when namely all pagans in the Old Testament were in total darkness, there was always a small light in the tribe of Jacob, although a few people took heed of that light. That sceptre which Balaam saw signifies a spiritual kingdom which had received its beginning from Israel. But all these matters were so far from his vision that he confessed, "I shall see him, but not now; I shall behold him, but not nigh," and these Balaam's words can be read in Numbers, 24th chapter.

Moreover, this pagan sorcerer had come to curse the congregation of Israel, but when he came closer and saw its beauty, he had to bless the congregation of Israel, although he had come to curse them. It has happened to many who have heard by word of mouth something about the Christianity, that he has come to curse them, but when he has beheld the Christianity closer, he has had to say, as the sorcerer Balaam, "Blessed is he that blesseth thee and cursed is he that curseth thee." As Balaam had started out from home on a mission to curse the congregation of Israel, so have many sorcerers of the world started out on a mission to curse and blaspheme Christians, but when they have observed the Christianity closer, their thoughts about Christianity have changed, and that same man who intended to curse the Christians has had to bless them.  When the natural intellect keeps his natural state as Christianity, he sees that true Christianity is superstition and the effect of the evil spirit, and when the message of Christianity travels farther, the devil adds ten more lies for each word. In that way the effects of Christianity sound terrible in the ears of a natural person so that a natural person cannot think otherwise of the Christianity than what the spirit of the devil causes him to believe, that Christianity is one human superstition. But when one natural man, who had started out on a mission to curse the Christians, conies closer and observes the nature of Christianity and the effects of Christianity, such an assurance comes to him that he is not worthy to curse the Christians. Although this light of the Christianity is at first so dim that it appears as a small star on the horizon, nevertheless the Spirit of God has turned the blind wretch's mind around, when he who came to curse the congregation of Israel had to bless them. But many a person of the world is so hardened, that the more often he sees Christians, the more he curses them. This spiritual hatred comes more often to those who have, according to their own opinion, lived meekly; when their meekness is reproved, they become very angry, that they begin to curse and swear.  The thieves of grace also do likewise when their faith is reproved.  They become angry with all those who want to try their faith. That living Christianity becomes so contrary and so terrible to the meek ones and the thieves of grace, that they would sooner go head-long into hell than that they would begin to make penitence and repentance. Total heathens would turn sooner, or such people who have lived in coarse sins, than the meek and true grace-thieves, whose foundation of salvation is in the skull, for total heathens realize after a short time that their life is not possibly a Christian life, and from the conversation of the Christians, they soon get that assurance that with such a life they will certainly go to destruction if a change and repentance do not come. But the meek whores and honest thieves, who are not at all conscious of their faults, they become angry as ashes when they are reproached for adultery and stealing, for their honor is so great that they go to hell with their honor. Therefore the Saviour says also that many pagans will come from the east and the west and sit with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven, but the children of the kingdom will be cast into outer darkness.

Those men from the east, who came a long distance to seek that newly born Saviour, were also Gentiles, and one strange star guided them to Bethlehem.  But the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who had better knowledge of that coming Saviour, did not go there although they heard that the star was seen. So it happens even now that total heathens will sooner turn to true Christianity than some mouth Christians who live near the church and hear the Word of God every Sunday. But they will have a greater responsibility, who hear the Word of God often and do not therefore go to Bethlehem to seek and to bow down to that newly born King of Judah. The star of that King is not always shining on the horizon of the heavens; but in these days His star has begun to shine in the north country, as that same star shone at that time in the east, that same star was then as a guide showing the way to those who traveled in the time of darkness, and that same star should even now be as a guide showing the way to all who with fervency of the heart seek the Saviour. Therefore, take heed of the stars of heaven, you poor travelers who travel many dangerous trips through fog and tempest, take heed of the star of heaven when the time of darkness comes, when the wind of the world comes with a blizzard and takes away the road so you cannot find the track, take heed of the star of heaven when the heavens darken and the sun has become black behind black clouds. Take heed of the star of heaven when the road ends and you must spend the night in the woods among the wolves and lions. Take heed of the star of heaven and pray that the Lord would soon allow His sun of mercy to shine upon those who sit in the valley of darkness, and we hope and believe that He hears the prayer of all the sorrowful, longing and wretched ones. Our Father, etc.

 

The Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12

 

We heard from our Holy Gospel that the wise men from the east came to seek and to worship, praying to that newly born King of Judah, and one strange star which had appeared in heaven was their guide showing the way.  In accordance with this we must at this moment, through the grace of God, consider: How God leads the Gentiles to the Saviour.

The first consideration: The gentiles from the East studied the star and, in studying them, a strange star appeared to them. The Second Consideration: This strange star was a guide to them showing the way. May the merciful Lord Jesus, whose star has now appeared, allow that all gentiles would begin to follow that star which shows them the way to Bethlehem.

The first consideration: The gentiles from the Bast studied the stars. They are few, who truly study the stars of heaven. Those people whose possessions are in the bosom of the earth look downward, and therefore they cannot lift their eyes to heaven, for they so diligently seek for that treasure trove where they think they will find some great hidden treasure, that they do not remember to lift their eyes upward. And although some people seek that treasure trove, which according to common imagination and old time recollection should be found in the bosom of the earth, they nevertheless do not find it. For the earthlings or possessors of the earth have hidden that imaginary substance under the earth, and if someone was such an enchanter who could speak with the possessors of the earth, then it is said that such a one could acquire that great possession, which other people seek for in vain. But although the substance of the possessor of the earth shines as gold under the earth, when it is brought up from under the earth and it is beheld in the sunshine, it is nothing more than a charcoal pit. So, likewise, all those people become deceived, who seek for that buried substance from under the earth. But those few people who seek that hidden treasure in heaven, they are accustomed to always look upward, although other people of the world say that they are crazy who seek a treasure trove in heaven. It sometimes also happens so, that they who seek that hidden treasure in heaven fall into some pit, when while they travel they look always upward; but although the devil's angels get to laugh when one who is looking up into heaven falls, he cannot anyway prevent him from rising up. If that person who raises his eyes to heaven and the student of the stars travels steadily and feels with his feet where the pits are, he should not fall so often, and the devil's angels will not have so much laughing. When now, as it has been said, the wise men from the East or astronomers begin to raise their eyes to heaven, a strange star appears to them, which already from the beginning of the world has been on the horizon, although the people or those who study the stars have not seen it before, when it has been hidden behind other stars, or if old people has not understood how to look at those stars with a telescope. No matter how this matter is, that only is known and true, that the wise men from the East have noticed one strange star, and from that they surmise according to that old faith that one great and powerful king has been born into the world. And by the guidance of that star, they began to travel from the East, a long distance, in that direction in which the star in heaven leads. How far the birthplace of the wise men is from Bethlehem is surmised from that, that some surveyors have figured that they have traveled a whole year before they reached Jerusalem. Now if a person travels 18 miles in a day, which goes slowly, then the birthplace of the wise men was about 6,000 miles from the town of Bethlehem; it could be even farther. Since the evangelist has not heard of the name of that country from which the wise men came, then it can be surmised that the birthplace of these wise men was so far away from Jerusalem, that no ear had even heard the name of that country. All the same, these wise men began to travel from that dark and heavily fog-wrapped pagan land; they began to travel such a long distance that they did not know where this journey would end. But that marvelous star was a guide and showed the way. Nevertheless, they did not know to go directly to Bethlehem, but they got lost in the city of Jerusalem, where they thought they would find this royal child whose star had appeared. Surely they did not find there that king which they sought, but they received there such enlightenment, that the birthplace of the Saviour was not there, but in Bethlehem.

We must now remember that in the city of Jerusalem, in which the wise men got lost, lived first: worldly honor, second: self-repentance and third: dead faith. Worldly honor is that King Herod, who began to fear when the wise men began to speak of the star of the newly born king. Herod and all the lords of the world with him began to fear that they would lose their honor if this King would get to grow up. Herod, or worldly honor, then began to question the priests of dead faith, who had read the Scriptures, where the Christ was to be born. Herod had only heard mention of the Christ, that He should come into the world, but he had not considered the Scriptures more broadly. But the dead faith priests had considered the Scriptures, and they know surely that place where Christ should be born, but nevertheless they do not go there themselves to see Him, for the honor of the world prevents them, and self-repentance or that outward meekness also prevents them; they do not care to go to such a poor and despised place, although they hear now that a king is born. If they would even half believe that Christ is born in Bethlehem, nevertheless they would not go there for the reason that worldly honor does not allow them to go and self-repentance also is an obstacle. Also this Herod, or the honor of the world itself, wants especially to kill the Saviour, and for that reason he questions carefully at what time that star first appeared, and also asks the wise men who it is and what child it is. He says certainly with the mouth that he also wants to come to worship that child, but in his heart he intends to kill him. Such now is worldly honor, and although the dead faith priests and scribes do not go to Bethlehem themselves, nevertheless, after the king's command they tell where the Christ is to be born. That knowledge from the Scriptures which the wise men received from the scribes was certainly good for them, but worldly honor also makes that decision that if such a child whose birth is recorded in the Scriptures would get to grow up, then all the lords of the world would lose their honor, for which reason they secretly decide to kill him before He grows up.

The second consideration: That strange star, which the wise men saw leading them in the heavens, is a guide on the way to Bethlehem. It is reminded by clear testimony of the gospel writer that the star went before and stood still upon the place where Mary was with the Child, from which can be surmised that if the star had not led them, they would not have been able to find Bethlehem. But although these wise men or astronomers saw the star, it is not written in the gospel that other people saw it. Only the astronomers, who study the stars, saw it and understood that it was the star of a great King; so it is even now, that only they who study the stars can see the Saviour's star. And if there were not this wonderful star, then surely all those would be lost who start out to seek the Saviour. But this star, which shines so brightly on the crest of heaven, is always the guide on the way for all poor travelers who start out from the darkness of heathenism. Even if he feels in the beginning of his penitence and repentance that he is far away from Bethlehem, he nevertheless finally will reach the promised land after his journey through many dangers and temptations. If this star were not the guide on the way, then he would certainly become more lost than these wise men, who thought they would find the Saviour in the city of Jerusalem, although they found only the Saviour's enemies, namely, the honor of the world, (it is the King) Herod, who wishes from the heart to kill that newly born saviour, and confessors of dead faith, who surely know, after the testimony of the Scriptures, the birthplace of the Saviour, but do not go to Bethlehem themselves, but live always in that city where our Lord was killed. If now this star of Christ would cease to shine, or be behind black clouds, what would then be a refuge for the poor travelers, when they travel at night and in the time of darkness, many dangerous trips where the severe wind of the world, tempests, and hailstorm take away the road, which is anyway so narrow and hard to travel. What would be a refuge for these poor travelers if this star which has appeared on the horizon would cease to shine or disappear, when fierce beasts and lions roar on both sides, and the daughters of the earthlings with deceitful beauty entice and call the weary journeymen to them, and promise all kinds of delicacies and a good bed and sweet sleep. Do not listen to them, you weary journeymen, what the daughters of the earthlings whisper in your ear. They will give you sleeping potion if you go with them and then they will steal your provisions, your possessions. It is better to lie down on a rock or cliff and await when the dawn begins to break in your heart, than to go to the earthlings. And what would be a refuge to the weary journeymen if this star would disappear, when the spiritual lions begin to ravage and rend through doubts, like a bear who first oppresses the frightened into the bog and there tears and ravages, but nevertheless is not able to lift up the carcass from the bog. I know that the weary journeymen cannot bypass the slough of doubt, but if another person presses him even more, who is already sinking, then they certainly do more than what the Saviour and the Apostles have done. Some do it with a good intention, but not according to spiritual wisdom. For those poor and weary travelers, there is therefore that star which shines in the heavens, the best guide on the way; and whoever follows that star, should never stray very much, that he will not finally reach Bethlehem. Therefore take heed of the star of heaven, you weary journeymen, and do not ever lose this star from your eyes, for it leads you to Bethlehem. For long is the way to the land of Canaan and short is the time of grace, and that road that leads to life is narrow and many dangerous places are on the road. If the poor travelers would lose the Saviour's star, then they will be lost in a fork in the road. Therefore take heed of the star in heaven, you weary journeymen, do not become weary of watching and striving, do not look at the earth, but look upwards where the star comes from, and follow the star, then you will reach Bethlehem, where that newly born King of Israel lies, and offer up to Him of your hearts, gold, frankincense and myrrh, an acceptable gift for a king and for a sweet savor, and bow down and pray to Him now and forever. Amen