Sermon: Advent 2 Midweek (Quempas)

Text: Genesis 49:8-12
Date: 2010.12.8

In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Genesis 49:8-12
8"Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
    your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
    your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
9Judah is a lion’s cub;
   from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
   and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
10The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
   nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
   and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
11Binding his foal to the vine
   and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
   and his vesture in the blood of grapes.
12His eyes are darker than wine,
   and his teeth whiter than milk.

The Quempas Carol speaks so simply and beautifully: Jesus is Judah's lion.

He whom sages, westward faring,
Myrrh and gold and incense bearing,
Humbly worshiped, off’rings sharing,
Judah’s lion reigns this morn!

The sages of which the Quempas speaks are the Wise Men or Magi, as Matthew calls them. Whether there were three or five or ten, we don’t know, Scripture doesn’t tell us. We just presume that the presence of three gifts requires three gift givers. Whatever the case the sages and their gifts are not the important things here. The Wise Men disappear from the Bible just as swiftly and dramatically as they appear, as though the fear of Herod’s retribution chased them eastward faring, irretrievably out of the land and completely out of the picture. These foreign dignitaries are even ignored in Luke, the Gospel presumably written for foreigners, Gentiles.

But that OK. It's OK for the story of our Lord's Birth, and it's OK with them. The Wise Men did not come for themselves, or their glory or fame. The sages traveled only to see the King. They came to see Judah’s lion. And what's more, they came to worship Him, however He might appear.

And when they came, they carried with them the threefold gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They were the richest gifts from the richest places on earth: the gold of Sheba (Psalm 72:15) and the sweet-scented aromas of Arabia, frankincense and myrrh—gifts fit for a king. They came to acknowledge the King. They traveled to see Judah’s lion.

They had searched the OT Scriptures; they knew the promise from Genesis: “Judah is a lion's cub. . . .[and] The scepter shall not depart from Judah” (Genesis 49:9–10 esv). The throne in its entirety, the whole kingdom would reside in the hands of He whom sages, westward faring, would come to worship, the world's true King. The Wise Men, like many others of their time, looked and prayed longingly for a kingdom of perfect peace and prosperity; a unified worldly kingdom. They hoped that the universal ruler would inaugurate a kingdom in which the vine and its blood-red bunches would be so fruitful that even the lowly beasts of burden could feed upon them even as wine would flow so abundantly that clothes could be washed in it (Genesis 49:11–12). They longed for Eden’s promise to be brought to its full fruition: a land flowing with milk and honey. This was the land in which Adam and Eve were created and to which the new Adam would eventually lead all of the new Eve’s children. This is the land that effortlessly fed the first man and that at the re-creation would offer eternal manna into the hands of The Man to abundantly feed every man.

Their sights were set high. The sages were ambitious: and they hoped fervently for all of it to come to pass. Let their journey serve as proof: they eagerly followed the star across the world, through desert and over mountains, and across great rivers.

But then something went wrong: somewhere along the road the star disappeared from their view. Was it extinguished by God, now, once they had traveled so far? Did inclement weather shroud it in darkness? Or / did they simply just lose sight of it due to negligence by reasoning to themselves, “Well, after all, we're looking for a king, a great king. And where would such a king be born but in the great city, Jerusalem? Of course he would be in Jerusalem. That’s only reasonable. So that’s where we'll go. Let's not bother with this star anymore. Straight to Herod’s palace we go!”

But it was precisely in Jerusalem that the search for the lion of Judah / hit a dead end. Perhaps they expected Herod to be the King to unite all nations. But unfortunately, a lion in the very prime of his life, full of vigor and power, Herod was not. He was far from the prime of life. But what about Herod’s children? No, they had potential to be rulers, of course, but their was quite a problem when it came to Herod's children doing anything good with their lives; and the problem? most of them weren't alive long enough. The wise men would hear news that this old would-be lion, Herod, killed more sons that anyone might care to speak of.

And when the wise men finally did meet Herod, the cold reception they received was anything but peaceful and uniting. Obviously angered by their statement that there was a newborn king in Judah and that they traveled so far to see him and even worship him, Herod quickly consulted the priests. Where would Judah’s lion be born? The priests found the answer in the writing of the Prophet Micah: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2 NIV). But Herod wasn’t about to tell the sages what he knew.

So, true to form, the old washed-up lion was afraid of anything that might compromise his reign. After some sneaky and underhanded meetings during the night, Herod pulled the sages aside and sent them out the back door, saying something to this effect: “There is no king here, gentlemen. There is no king but me. But if you happen to find one, please let me know about it. Yes, do come back and enjoy more of my hospitality and tell me all about it, so that I, too, may—(how did you gentlemen put it?)—ah yes, 'worship' him.”

That threw cold water on the whole enterprise. The sages expected the whole city of Jerusalem to be celebrating in the streets that the lion of Judah was born, but no one had even heard of him; and to prevent anyone from any sort of suspicion, Herod sent the Wise Men away in secret. It was a disappointment. It sounded so reasonable, the king should have been born in Jerusalem the great city. But no, in Bethlehem? Unthinkable. The problem, though, was not Jerusalem, the problem was that the Wise Men had depended on their own wisdom.

Now that their own wisdom had failed them, and they had recognized that their feeble human reason was the problem, they finally abandoned it and simply / believed. They must have confidence in God and His chosen way to guide them. And then, low and behold, the star reappeared. Or perhaps they simply just started paying attention to it again. The sages, once misled, now were rescued from their own ignorant wisdom by the wisdom of God. The star twinkled joy and called to them to follow.

Off to Bethlehem. And to more testing of their newly revived confidence in God. Surely, Bethlehem's palace would be nice, as well. So the king wouldn't be found in the palace in the great city, but at the least he would be in a palace, right?

As they entered the town, the star came to rest over a humble dwelling, not much to it. The outside was sort of common, like the other dwellings in the neighborhood. And inside? All they could find was a quiet little mother and her 2 year old child. Like the house, the family was quite common looking. And the King. A child? Could this be Judah’s lion? There was no evidence of anything spectacular surrounding the child’s supposedly glorious and world-changing birth. There was no sign of the scepter that would never leave his grip. The land of milk and honey was nowhere to be seen. No evidence whatsoever pointed to the fact that anything important was going on here. For all we know Mary could have been whipping little Jesus' bottom when the sages appeared at their residence in Bethlehem. (Now that would have been a great sermon text!)

No evidence, yet the wisemen were not put off. They had learned the hard lesson of what trusting in appearances really amounts to. Unbelief would not stand in their way any longer. After all, this is the very place over which the star came to rest. No, by means of their failures up this point, God had now given the sages from afar the confidence to believe in the hidden glory of the presence of Judah’s lion and the secret power of his scepter. The Lion of Judah would cloth His glory and power under the signs of humility and lowliness.

The sages believed. And there was no hesitation now. The Gospel tells us that they bowed down and worshiped him. But still, how odd! They were just in Jerusalem, where there were priests, and the Temple, and glorious worship, and fine palaces, and all the trappings of power, yet they had not worshiped there. But here / in Bethlehem, before this child, they worshiped. They bowed down to him; they brought Him their finest things; and they were not ashamed. For they knew that He from whom the scepter could not depart, even this Jesus, born of a lowly maiden, He could be none other than the God who promised to come in power and might to save His people. It is not so odd then that they were awed—not forced into submission as before, under Herod, but overwhelmed with joy by God’s own quiet leading by the star.
Like the sages who followed that star, the followers of Jesus also trust what God has said, rather than what their own eyes and heart and mind might tell them. For eyes can be deceived and the heart is awash in wickedness. But God’s Word will never lie or deceive. In this Lion of Judah there is the victorious celebration at which all the people of God sing praises because the cup of salvation is full to overflowing. Shiloh has come with peace in his wings, with vines groaning with ripe fruit, with an abundance of milk and wine. In this kingdom, there will be no weakness, no sickness, sorrow, deprivation, or death. In that kingdom, even in that kingdom as it exists now, among us, offense is not taken at the weakness of how He comes among us. We are not offended by preaching or water or bread and wine. Rather, we humbly worship Him, bowing down, receiving the gifts. We sing with the Quempas: “Judah’s lion reigns this morn! God’s own Son is born a child, is born a child!”

In +Jesus' name. Amen. 

[Artwork by Ed Riojas]
*This sermon is edited from the one provided by CPH's "A Shepherd's Christmas" (find this resource at

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