Readings for the day (Epiphany of Our Lord – Sunday, January 6, 2019):
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas? A shiny new car with a big red bow on it? Well that’s what all the car commercials show us what the perfect gift looks like. Did you know that our gift giving tradition comes from the Bible? We say that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. We also say that of all the presents that we get, Jesus is the greatest gift we have ever received. Both of which are true. Now the tradition of gift giving comes from these wise men or astronomers who follow a star from the Far East to visit the Messiah and bring Him gifts.
The gifts these three men bring seem a little odd for us in 2019. They bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Well maybe not the gold. Because who wouldn’t want some bars of gold. Especially since right now an ounce of gold is around $1,300. Which makes a gold bar just over half a million dollars. Who wouldn’t want that? These gifts though, that the magi bring, are of significant importance. These gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh show Jesus’ true identity while He is still an infant.
The first gift is gold and it is presented to the child for His earthly kingship. Gold is a symbol of power and authority in this world. You’ve heard the saying, “Whoever has the gold, makes the rules.” By giving Jesus this gift of gold, the wise men are acknowledging the power and authority that Jesus has in this world.
The second gift is frankincense and it is presented to the child for His heavenly kingship. Frankincense is a type of incense, that when burnt it gives off a fragrant odor. During the Old Testament time, incense became an important part of worship to God. God even makes comments about enjoying the sweet aroma of the people’s incense and offerings. So frankincense became a symbol of worship to God. By giving Jesus this gift of frankincense, the wise men are acknowledging the power and authority that Jesus has as God Himself.
With these two gifts, these three foreigners have given recognition to the fact that this child that was born to us is and forever will be the King of both earth and heaven. The final gift is myrrh and it is presented to the child in preparation for His death. No one wants to think of a sweet, innocent baby’s death, but this final gift of Myrrh is exactly what comes to mind. Myrrh is an anointing oil that is used at the time of burial. I wonder what Mary and Joseph thought when this gift was given. Where they offended that this gift was given revealing the reality that their child will die someday? When a child is born, we of course know that death is a realty, we just don’t like to think about that when we are holding a precious little child in our arms. With this gift though, the magi recognize that this king of both heaven and earth, although just a child, will one day die for the sins of the world.
The story of the three wise men is Matthew’s Christmas story. And the coming of the wise men and giving their three gifts, is the first part of Matthew’s Christmas story – the part that we tell our children and grandchildren about. We don’t tell them the next part of this Christmas story because of what comes next. We prefer to just stick with Luke’s Christmas story because it’s nice, it’s peaceful with Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus in this stable with all of these animals and shepherds surrounding them. And it is a nice, calm night with the stars twinkling bright. We picture what we sing about in those dearly loved Christmas carols like O Little Town of Bethlehem and Away in a Manger. We long to just stay in Luke’s world where there is no arguing, no fighting, no stress. Just peace and stillness. But in Matthew’s Christmas story it’s the opposite. The second half of Matthew’s story is one of fear and violence.
After the wise men visit King Herod looking to find out where the Messiah has been born, Herod gets fearful of another king in his presence. He is so insecure about the possibility of someone replacing him that he resorts to violence in order to maintain and secure his power. That’s a lot of power that is given to this Christ child. The fact that this powerful, authoritative person is so terrified of a child in diapers that he resorts to numerous murders shows the reality of what power and the drive to keep that power, can do to a person. In order to keep his power, Herod orders the killing of all male children under two years of age. This way he would be able to sleep at night knowing that he has eliminated the possibility of another king rising to power. This is the part of the Christmas story that we don’t want to think about. We would rather stick with Luke’s version. Luke’s version is nicer. But if Luke’s Christmas story is nice, Matthew’s story is realistic. We so desperately want to live in Luke’s world where everything is peaceful and calm, but we keep waking up in Matthew’s world of fear and violence. We dream of Luke’s version, but Matthew’s is our reality.
So we are left wondering, will Luke’s version ever become our reality? Will we ever get to the peace and calm without the fear and violence? We may, but I think it all comes down to the gifts that we bring and what gifts you have to offer to the new born king.
What gifts do you have to offer? The wise men offer gold, frankincense and myrrh. What are you offering? What can we offer to someone who has everything? You probably have someone in your family or friends that is just hard to get a present for. You never know what to get them for Christmas because they seem to have everything. The wise men came to bring gifts to Jesus, the Son of God. What gifts could we possible offer to our God who already has everything? There is one gift that we can offer to our God who has everything. The one gift He desires is for us to love our neighbor. In loving our neighbor, we are giving a gift to God. Our heavenly Father gave us His Son and Jesus says that through loving and caring for our neighbors, we in turn are giving a gift to our God who appears to have everything.
Everything that is, except children who love and care for each other. After all, isn’t that what parents desire for their own children to get along with one another? We long for our family to be like Luke’s version filled with peacefulness and calmness rather than Matthew’s version that is filled with fear and violence. Since this is what we desire for our families, we work hard at making this dream become a reality. We care for each other. We bring comfort and support when needed. All of this we do out of instinct because it is our own children, our own family.
God’s desire is for us to get along with one another. To get along within our families, within our church family, within our community, and throughout the world. When we do this, we are offering the one gift to God that He desires. And this is the one gift that He desires because the Christ child who received gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh is the King of both heaven and earth, who died for our sins so that we can be reconciled to God. And when we are all together at that great heavenly wedding banquet, God wants us to be getting along by joining our voices together in praising our God who saved us from sin and death. Amen.
© 2019 Anthony Christoffels. All rights reserved.