This was my talk on 1-5-2014 for Epiphany Sunday.
Read Mathew 2:1-12
Last Christmas, a grandfather was feeling his age, and found that shopping for Christmas gifts had become too difficult. So he decided to send checks to everyone instead.
In each card he wrote, “Buy your own present!” and mailed them early.
He enjoyed the usual flurry of family festivities, and it was only after the holiday that he noticed that he had received very few cards in return. Puzzled over this, he went into his study, intending to write a couple of his relatives and ask what had happened. It was then, as he cleared off his cluttered desk that he got his answer. Under a stack of papers, he was horrified to find the gift checks which he had forgotten to enclose with the cards.
This is Epiphany Sunday. The Epiphany is usually commemorated on January 6. It represents the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi. It is celebrated twelve days after Christmas. Literally it stands the Mass for Christ. Christ and Mass, becomes Christmas. According to About.com “Christmas is often celebrated the evening before Christmas day, and Epiphany is often celebrated as the Twelfth Night. Gift-giving in some cultures extends throughout the 12 days of Christmas and in some places is limited to January 5 or 6. Similarly, for those who celebrate only Christmas, gifts are exchanged on either December 24, Christmas Eve, or December 25, Christmas Day. Many Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7 because of the difference between the Gregorian and Julian calendars.”
Last year Queen Elizabeth the Second celebrated her Diamond Jubilee (celebrating 60 years since she ascended to the throne). According to the Telegraph of London, She received a huge array of gifts from all over the world both anonymously, from her Royal subjects, and from World leaders. She received three thrones, a knitted tea cozy, 78 portraits of herself, a dog bed shaped like a crown, ceremonial weapons, a baby llama, something my son will appreciate, a Lego sculpture of the Tower Bridge, a Brazilian football shirt, a pot of Jam, adoption rights to a baby Asian elephant, a pillar of salt, 60 rose bushes from the Isle of Man, and along with a large collection of DVDs and CD, a large section of land in Antarctica was renamed after her. That is not the complete list.
But Jesus was given Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. We know what gold is and even then it had great worth. Frankincense was a resin obtained from a tree of the genus Boswellia. It is a strong perfume that was highly valued. And Myrrh is also a resin from a small thorny tree from the genus Commiphora. The Egyptians used it as part of their embalming process.
According to Wikipedia, the Magi are also referred to as the Three Wise Men or Three Kings, in Christian tradition, a group of distinguished foreigners who visited Jesus after his birth bearing gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Biblical scholars believe they may have been from Persia or Yemen. The Gospel of Matthew is the only Gospel to mention the Magi. It doesn’t tell us how many of them there were but because there are three gifts it is thought perhaps there were three Wise Men. All Matthew says is that they came from the East. And as Matthew’s account states they are meeting the child at a house, so perhaps this isn’t happening right after Jesus’ birth. In fact as our pastor told us a couple of weeks ago during our Advent candle lighting, Jesus was probably one or two years old as this is happening. Remember, Herod asks the Magi when did they first see the star? And if indeed the Magi were from Persia (now Iran), it would have taken 52 hours or so by car. This is about 2438.25 miles. Granted, I used Google Maps and well, we don’t know the exact start location or the exact destination so this is all guess work. But if a fully loaded camel can usually go 18 to 20 miles a day, it would take around 135 days to get to Bethlehem. They didn’t have Google maps or AAA back then and they asked an evil guy like Herod for directions when they would have been better off asking at a gas station, had they had those back then. If they were from Yemen, then they would only have to drive say 43 hours by car.
Matthew tells us the Magi are the first ones to worship Jesus. Again Biblical scholars believe they may have been from Persia or Yemen. There was a Jewish religious sect in Yemen who felt placement of the stars represented or foretold different events such as the birth of a King. It is interesting the gifts they gave Jesus. What do you give a King?
What gifts do you have for a King? In the short story The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry we have a young couple who love each other. You see the tradition of giving gifts at Christmas is by Christian Tradition started with the Magi. The Wise Men or Kings gave the first gifts of Christmas. To this young couple it was important to give each other a special gift that showed they loved each other. The girl, Della, had long brown hair that was all the way down to her knees. She had scrimped and saved $1.87. This was in a time when $10-$20 a week was a working poor man’s salary. She went to a place that made wigs and sold her hair for $20. So now she had $21.87 and she went and bought her husband, Jim, a platinum watch chain because his pocket watch had no chain. She was so proud of herself. She ran home all the way with excitement. That night her husband was late getting home. She was so worried he would not like her after cutting her hair. When he finally arrives home, he has a very strange reaction to find her hair cut short, but he tells her there is no way he would stop loving her. He gives her his gift, a set of fancy combs she had wanted for some time. After sobbing uncontrollably for a bit, he calms her down and he opens his gift, a watch chain. He then explains he had traded his pocket watch to get her gift. They put their gifts away and have dinner. O. Henry says they are the Magi as they are wise and have given gifts from the heart.
What gifts would you give a king? What gifts would you give Jesus? What gifts would you give Jesus that are from your heart? Sometimes we don’t use our God given gifts to move the Kingdom of God forward. Are you hoarding your gifts the Lord gave you? Or are you giving from your heart to others? When you give from your heart in Love to others, you are giving gifts to Jesus. By ourselves there is no gift we can give that is worthy of a King nor of Jesus. But if we prayerfully consider our gifts and give them freely from the heart, through our gifts and talents we can pass God’s grace to everyone we come in contact with.