Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
On New Year’s Eve this year, after the church service at Grace, Nathan, Rachel, and I looked at some Christmas lights on Rio Lane, and then decided to go and see the new Star Wars movie. It was a Tuesday night, half price night at the theatre, and New Year’s Eve. I wasn’t sure if the theatre would be crowded or empty. There was a chance that we wouldn’t get in. It wasn’t crowded. We bought our tickets. We got in. We watched the movie. I think it was 12:04 when the ending credits rolled.
I haven’t always gotten in. On Boxing Day we tried to drop in on some friends, but they were not home. We didn’t get in. Access denied. When the grocery store near our house decided to no longer be open 24 hours a day, I went late one night and I didn’t get in. Access denied. And I still hold a bit of a grudge that when we moved to St. Catharines more than ten years ago, I went to check out what all the fuss was about Costco before buying a membership, and they wouldn’t even let me in to look around. Access denied.
What a beautiful account we have on Epiphany of the wise men going to visit Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12). A star in the heavens had told them that a king had been born. They knew it must have been a wondrous king if such a cosmic event gave the announcement. First they went to the capital city, Jerusalem. I’m sure they wondered how crowded the city would be and what kind of celebrations and festivities would be going on. Perhaps some of the streets would be blocked off for a parade. Would they even be able to get into the city? But there was no special celebration. They didn’t have any trouble entering the city or gaining an audience with King Herod. But the one they were looking for was not there, and no one seemed to know where He was.
They searched the Scriptures, which directed them to Bethlehem. Herod told them to go and search there. But they didn’t have to search at all. The star led them to where the child was. Again there was nothing going on in the streets impeding their progress. There was no great crowd in Bethlehem that stood in their way. The little town was lying still. The star led them to the very house and yet there was no crowd blocking the door. Joseph opened up and let them into the house. “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him” (Matthew 2:11).
The foreign magi who had no idea where they were going or what they would find were led by the star to the very place. Nothing stood in their way. The door was opened. They were granted access to Jesus, the King. It was not so for the local king, Herod. It was not given for him to see the star or to note its significance. He would not have know about the birth of Jesus at all if the magi had not stopped to ask him. After the magi had been led to Jesus they were warned not to go back and tell Herod. When Herod went and searched himself, he could not find the Christ, even though he went house by house and eliminated all the baby boys in Bethlehem. As we heard on the First Sunday after Christmas, God sent angels to bar Herod’s way to the Christ. Joseph was warned to take the child and flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-20). Access denied.
To foreigners access was given to Christ Jesus, while the local king was banned. This is what we heard in the Gospel for Christmas Day. “He came to His own and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). This is what St. Paul called the mystery of the Gospel in today’s Epistle. “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus though the Gospel” (Ephesians 3:6).
And what was more amazing and mysterious to Paul was that he himself was called to be a minister of this Gospel. “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of His power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things” (3:7-9).
The mystery of the Gospel is that Gentiles are given access to the King of the Jews, to live under His gracious reign and to receive all the blessings of His rule: to become children of God and fellow heirs with Christ; to be incorporated into the body of Christ through Holy Baptism, so that what happened to Christ in His body happens to them as well (they conquer death and rise again); to be partakers of the promise in Christ, that all of what was promised to the children of Israel about a heavenly homeland and a gracious king to reign over them forever would be for the Gentiles too.
All of this is given in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born of Mary, who died for the sins of the world and rose again to give life to all. This Gospel is freely given, not just to people of His own nationality, heritage, and ethnic origin, but to all who believe in His name. The foreign magi believed and came to worship Him and He gave them treasures beyond what they could have ever presented to Him. He gave them forgiveness, life, and salvation. He gave them Himself to suffer and die for their sins so that they could live forever under His grace and mercy and love.
This mystery of the Gospel is that the love and mercy of God in Jesus Christ is open to all who desire it. The kingdom of God, under this King Jesus, is freely given to all who repent and seek His grace. For Paul, the greatest part of this mystery is that it includes him, the least of all the saints. He calls himself that because he persecuted the very children of God. He supervised the stoning of the first martyr, Stephen (Acts 7:58), whose victorious death we remember on December 26 while everyone else is celebrating Boxing Day. Paul also went throughout the Roman Empire arresting Christians and sending them to Jerusalem so that they would be condemned and suffer the same fate as Stephen (Acts 8:3; 9:1-2). Why should this man be granted access to the King of kings and Lord of lords? Was he any better than King Herod?
Why should you be given access to Him? And this is the great mystery of the Gospel for you. Why are you given access to God’s grace in Christ Jesus, to forgiveness and favour and eternal life and glory? You know the things you have thought and said and done against the saints of God, your brothers and sisters in Christ. Why is the door open to you? Why are you granted access?
Even to the least of all the saints, the mystery of the Gospel is the unfathomable love of God in Christ Jesus to grant access to all who seek His mercy and grace. To you, O Gentiles, the door is opened. To you, O sinners, the way is clear to the Christ. There is the Child to give you treasures beyond price: a place in His kingdom, under His eternal reign of grace, mercy, and love.
Unto you, O Gentile, a Child is born. Unto you, O sinner, a Son is given (Isaiah 9:6). Yes, unto you. You have access because He came for you. He came to save sinners. He came to unite all people into one in Himself. He came to incorporate you into His body through Holy Baptism. And this door is opened to all who repent and seek His kingdom. This Gospel news opens your ears, your heart, and your eyes to see that He has opened the way for you, and through Him to the Father.
He comes to you with open arms, bringing His treasures. In Word and Sacrament you have access to Jesus. He puts Himself right there where nothing can get in your way, other than your own sinful pride and fear, like King Herod. But even Herod would have had access if he would have desired this Christ and the forgiveness that He brings. The door would have been opened for him too.
As it is, the door is opened to you, to your family members, and friends, to your neighbours, to people from all nationalities and ethnic groups. No angel bars the way. The light of the Gospel shines right upon where this Child is for you. The way to the King and into His kingdom is opened even to sinners like you who desire to be forgiven. Access granted. Access to this King who freely gives His treasures to you.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.