St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church

3800 East Third Street

Bloomington, Indiana 47401

(812) 332-5252

Sermon for the Second Wednesday of Advent(December 10, 2014)

Liturgical Color: Blue

Marissa Tweed, Pastoral Intern

Frankincense for Jesus' Divinity

And they shall name him Emmanuel which means "God is with us."

Each gift of gold, frankincense, and myrrh that the magi brought before Jesus underscores the great mystery of 'God With Us.' This is especially true for the gift of frankincense as it is often associated with Christ's divinity.

During these mid-week advent services together we are taking a look at each of these gifts of the magi and exploring the symbolism of what they might tell us about Christ.

As mentioned last week, In 1857 John Henry Hopkins, Jr. forever altered how we view the magi and their gifts when he wrote the song "We Three Kings" - his carol emphasized a symbolic theology to accompany each of the gifts: gold affirming Jesus' identity as king of our lives, myrrh reminding us of Jesus' humanity, and frankincense affirming Jesus' identity as the Son of God.

Theologian Vernon McGee phrases this in a similar way: that Gold speaks of Jesus' birth for he was born a king, myrrh speaks of his death, and frankincense speaks of the fragrance of his life — his divine life.

Today we explore frankincense as it points us to the divinity of Jesus Christ: Jesus as God in the flesh walking among us, talking among us, breathing among us, and living and dying among us. The gift of frankincense is a symbol of Jesus' divinity.

[Grab bowls of frankincense off of the altar]

As we explore the symbolism of Frankincense I invite you to explore the physical substance of frankincense as well: smell it, touch it, take a piece home with you as a reminder if you wish. Be connected with this scent that is so often associated with the divine.

And, of course, as a part of this I had to do some extra research on this substance:

Frankincense is a white resin or gum that comes from a tree by making incisions in the bark and allowing the resin to flow out and then harden. It's often ground into a powder, and though frankincense tastes bitter, it is known for how freely it burns - leaving nothing behind. It is also known for being highly fragrant when it burns and this is why it was so often used in the worship of antiquity and even today in many traditions.

Biblical references to frankincense are plentiful in the bible (about 170 times), and these references are found largely in the Pentateuch, the first 5 books of the Old Testament. Leviticus instructs that frankincense be utilized in Eucharistic offerings to the Lord. These offerings were made of fine flour, with oil and frankincense mixed in, to offer gratitude for blessings received from God.

The Roman Catholic tradition has this to say about Frankincense:

"Incense is used to venerate, bless, and sanctify. Its smoke conveys a sense of mystery and awe. It is a reminder of the sweet-smelling presence of our Lord. The visual of the smoke and the smell of the smoke reinforce the transcendence of the Mass - linking Heaven with Earth, and allowing us to enter into the presence of God."

In the Roman Catholic Church, Frankincense also symbolically purifies all that it touches. In fact, during some of the Catholic liturgies those preparing to receive Holy Communion hold their hands over the incense in order to 'purify' them before partaking in communion.

These are just a couple examples of how some consider frankincense to also represent spiritualty, especially when it comes to humanity's prayerful connection with God.

As we sang together just a little bit ago, Psalm 141 says, "Let my prayer rise up like incense before you"

In the Godly Play class for the younger children in Sunday School, there is a time of prayer in the curriculum: all the children sit down together in a circle around a candle and each child shares a prayer either in their heart or in their head. When they have all gone around the circle the Godly Play teacher snuffs out the candle and the children watch as their prayers 'rise up to God' with the smoke.

It is a fun practice for children in their early faith journeys and provides a visual for them to feel connected with God...and, at the same time, we as good Lutherans know it's not required to have these things in order to have a connection with God...

For God> came to us in Jesus Christ — Jesus is the ultimate connection with God

This Advent I've been reading from a devotional book titled, God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a beloved 20th century Lutheran pastor, theologian, and leader in the religious resistance against the Nazi regime. Many of you may already know that Bonhoeffer's life was brutally cut short when Hitler ordered for his death just 10 days before the Nazi forces surrendered.

Bonhoeffer offers this word on the divinity of Jesus and the mysterious and everlasting connection we have with God because of him. Bonhoeffer writes,

"[This] is the unrecognized mystery of this world: Jesus Christ. That this Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter, was himself the Lord of Glory: that [is] the mystery of God. It [is] a mystery because God became poor, low, lowly, and weak out of love for humankind, because God became a human being like us so that we would become divine, and because he came to us so that we would come to him. God: the one who becomes low for our sakes, God in Jesus of Nazareth...this is the depth of the Deity whom we worship as mystery and comprehend as mystery."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was very familiar with the writings of Luther, and I think Luther himself would agree: because of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel - God With Us, we too become divine. In our baptisms into the life, death, and resurrection of Christ we are made divine, even still in our brokenness, both sinners and saints simultaneously. And because of this we have the opportunity, duty, and joy to be Christ in the world.

To throw a seminary term your way Systematic Theology calls this "theosis" — humanity's participation in the life and ministry of Christ and thus partaking in Christ's divine nature.

This is "theosis" — union with Christ — the indwelling of Christ in us — God in the fullness of his divine essence present and at work in us and through us.

It's radical to think about. It's even more radical to believe and live out in our actions.

Galatians tells us, "All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Galatians 3:27).

Ephesians tells us, "Put on this new nature created in God"s image, and to be God-like in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:24).

2 Corinthians tells us, "We are the aroma of Christ, and the fragrance that comes from knowing Jesus spreads through us into every place." (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

God's divinity comes to us in Jesus Christ and it is Jesus who invites us into this divine masterpiece of reconciling and restoring work in the world - 2000 years ago, today, and forevermore.




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