Sunday, January 6, 2008

God's Inclusive Exclusivity

Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

TODAY IS THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY. It's the day when the Church celebrates God's revelation of Himself to the Gentiles in the Infant Christ. "Epiphany" means "to show [something] to [someone]," and that's just what the Lord God does when He leads the Wise Men by the star to come and worship Jesus, the newborn King.

But this holy day could also be called "The Feast of Inclusive Exclusivity."

We all know what being inclusive means. When we're talking about people, it means letting everyone into your group and not keeping anyone out. Inclusiveness is a primary virtue in our culture. Everyone wants to be considered inclusive. If you're not inclusive, you must be intolerant or some sort of bigot or something else equally unacceptable.

On the other hand, it's not acceptable at all to be ex-clusive. If you're exclusive, you put up barriers. You let some people in and keep others out. Our culture says it's wrong to be exclusive. Who are we to judge? Better to be caught robbing a bank than to be openly exclusive.

But on this Feast of the Epiphany, God reveals His inclusive exclusivity. We see Him letting people in on the one hand, and keeping them out, on the other.

What is God up to? Is He somehow going against His own rules by being inclusively exclusive? Or is He doing something that should cause us to fall down in worship and adoration? Is He teaching us a lesson we should follow as we do His will in this fallen world?

Our readings from Isaiah and St. Matthew certainly show the inclusive nature of the Lord God of Israel. And I name Him "the Lord God of Israel" on purpose. The Lord called the children of Israel from father Abraham on and made a special covenant with them that they would be His special people and they would be their special God. And unlike what we hear so much of these days, no, not every nation was special to the Lord. Just Israel. Just the Jews.

But Isaiah looks forward to the day when foreign kings and alien nations would come and share in Israel's covenant promises. They would enjoy the peace and prosperity and happiness that up to then God had pledged to Israel alone. All through his prophecy, Isaiah speaks of how foreigners who had no right to God's divine favour would one day be joined to Israel and receive the blessings belonging to the Lord's chosen people.

Then hundreds of years later, St. Matthew is writing his Gospel, and he considers how the Magi came from the East to worship Jesus, the little King of the Jews. And Matthew recognises that as the beginning of the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy.

It's pretty certain that the Magi weren't exactly kings, but they would have been on the upper levels of the hierarchy at the royal court in Chaldea. They would have been royal advisors, like the members of the president's cabinet, and we can assume they carried royal authority and sanction with them. So they indeed represent the Gentile "kings" Isaiah prophesied would come to the brightness of Israel's dawn.

In fact, the Magi represent all the Gentiles that the Lord God of Israel would call and lead to come and be included in the blessings and benefits of glorified Israel. The blessings weren't just for the Jews anymore. As Isaiah says, "Your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm."

This in one sense is talking about the return of children of exiled Jews, born in foreign lands and coming to back to the Promised Land, to Jerusalem for the first time. But the Holy Spirit means more than that. These children, these sons and daughters are those born Gentiles that the Lord on this great day will bring to be included in His glorified Israel. And as the prophet says, every true Israelite will be overcome with joy to see everyone who will be included, everyone who will come join him in the praise of the Lord.

So God is very, very inclusive. The Wise Men themselves, they were from Chaldea, or Babylon. Today, we call that country Iraq. Babylon was a byword for all that was evil, all that was to be rejected by a good Jew. But the Lord God has led even high officials of that hated nation to come and humble themselves at the cradle of the King of the Jews. If Babylonian nobility could come and bow down, if their worship was accepted, how could any Gentile of any nation ever be excluded at all?

They can't. We can't. People of every tribe and tongue and nation are called to come and receive the blessings God promised to His people Israel.

For as we saw last week, those blessings are made possible and perfect in Jesus Christ, who is the New Israel. He's the one who keeps the law in ethnic Israel's behalf. He's the one who takes the punishment for their rebellion and sin. Jesus Christ is the One who rose again to usher in a new life in God for His people Israel. He's the one who is the true Heir of all the promises God ever made about light and life and glory and prosperity and blessing. He's the new and true Israel. And Jesus is the one who incorporates all of us, Jew and Gentile, into Himself, and so He includes us in the inheritance that is coming to Him.

But we've put our finger right on it. That's God's ex-clusivity right there. It's Jesus Christ. If you want to be included in God's blessings, if you want to be a member of God's special people, you have to get in exclusively through Jesus Christ.

In Isaiah, the Holy Spirit speaks of a glorious dawn that will relieve and lift the spiritual darkness covering all the world. He says nations and kings will come to that light. But that's the point: They have to come, because the dawn comes out of Israel alone. And the source and Sun of that dawn is Jesus Christ, Israel's Messiah.

If God were being "inclusive" as the modern world counts inclusiveness, the new light, the great new morning would have been given to every pagan nation right where they were. They would have had no need to seek and worship the incarnate Son of the God of Israel.

But that's not how God chose to do things. He chose to have the high officials of Chaldea, the wisest of the wise, come all that way to bow down before the Infant King of the Jews! He led them by the miraculous star to come all that way, and the Magi were overjoyed to do it, too.

For they were wiser men than a lot of people who consider themselves really smart today. They knew that if they wanted to be included in God's blessings to Israel, they had to come worship before Israel's true King, because that's where the blessings exclusively were.

You hear a lot of silliness these days about how "religion" should be inclusive. Some people will say, "The heart of Christianity is its inclusiveness. If a church excludes anybody for any reason, it's not really a Christian church." Other people will say, "Christianity is a bad religion. It excludes people who don't believe in Jesus."

Both those statements totally miss the point of God's glorious inclusive exclusivity. Yes, the Lord calls everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, to share in the light and riches of Christ, the New Israel. He is inclusive. But that light and those riches are found exclusively in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the New Israel, the King of the Jews. You have to put your trust in Him and Him alone.

You have to, because there is no other source of blessing and fellowship and eternal life with Almighty God. There is no other way to please God and be acceptable to Him, other than trust in Christ the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. There is no other route to heaven, besides the one Way, Truth, and Life who is God's only-begotten Son.

Because that is Who He is-- the Son of God. If you want blessings from God, if you want eternal life and gracious favor and peace with God and man, if you want your face to be divinely radiant and your heart to throb with holy joy, you have to get all those good things from God Himself. That's where they are. Jesus Christ is the one and only exclusive source of God's light and love and blessing, because He of all human beings is God in human flesh, and He alone. You try to go somewhere else to get them, if you try to make up a way to get all these divine things for yourself, you're wasting your time. And you're a fool, because they won't be there. The blessings of God towards man are found exclusively in God's Son, the Man Jesus Christ.

The Wise Men knew this and were willing to travel mile upon desert mile in order to be included in God's exclusive source of blessing. They didn't turn up their noses at the Lord's exclusivity. No, when they saw the star that told them they were getting close to the Child Jesus, they were overjoyed!

Are we as wise as they? Are we willing to receive our heavenly Father's inclusive gifts in His exclusive way? We don't have to travel hundreds of miles to get them. God's blessings in Christ are as close to us as our church fellowship, as close to us as the Bible on our nightstands, as close as the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts, as close to us as this Holy Supper spread for our spiritual nourishment.

Come to this Table exclusively through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and He will include you in His blessings of grace and salvation. He died to give them to you. See and touch and taste the bread and the wine. Be refreshed by the sacrifice of His body broken for you, and His blood shed that you might share in His heavenly joy with all the saints of every time and place. Come, be included in the Lord's communion, and know the divine salvation and joy and light that come exclusively and gloriously through Jesus Christ, our Saviour, King, and only Lord. Amen.


DunedainRanger said...

A beautiful little meditation on salvation by faith in Christ. You did a nice job of not cutting corners on either the inclusivity or the exclusivity. :-)

St. Blogwen said...

Thank you. Or rather, thank God!