Sunday, January 10, 2016

Sermon: The Wisemen’s Gifts

The Wisemen’s Gifts

            Today I want to talk with you all about the gifts the wisemen brought.
            On one hand, there is the tradition, going back to at least the 600’s—attributed to the Venerable Bede,
we find this tradition in such songs as “We Three Kings”
—this tradition looks at the three gifts, Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh, and sees them as Symbols.
            Gold symbolizes the Kingship of Jesus…that he is the Messiah—the King of the Jews—the rightful heir of King David, whose kingdom God has promised shall have no end.
            Frankincense symbolizes the Divinity of Christ, that this baby they’ve come before, is God arrived in the flesh. God is found in the flesh, that the flesh might be found in God.
            Myrrh symbolizes the death to come—that Jesus would die as a sacrifice, acceptable for all.

            Another common way to view these gifts, is in light of certain scriptures about the wealth of the nations flooding into Israel to signal the changing of the age
—make us aware of the Day of the Lord
—a day when justice and mercy would be shown concretely
—the day God would act.
            In fact, we read in the book of Acts and in Paul’s letters, of the collection Paul was taking up from the gentile churches he’d founded
—he was collecting money and other goods from these gentile churches—these non-Jewish churches—to send to the 12 disciples who were back in Jerusalem.
He did this to point out that God was acting in Jesus Christ
—acting, as well in Paul’s mission to the wider world.
The words of Isaiah and the Psalmist were being fulfilled in the actions of the Early Church.
            So too, Matthew’s Wisemen—they bear these gifts to Jesus in order to point to God’s actions in this world
—that the age was changing,
the Day of the Lord was at hand,
Justice and mercy were taking place in the person of Jesus.

            And these are both important gifts the Magi, these wise men, bring.
            But I think there is one more—they bring to us the gift of the seeker.
            The wisemen’s gift is the gift of the seeker.

Let us pray

            The wisemen give the gift of the seeker, the gift of the outsider, the one seeking, not the one who is comfortable with what they’ve already found.
The gift of the seeker—Think of it—the wise men arrive looking for the King of the Jews.
            They come as outsiders, foreigners, gentiles
—and they enter in, and they ask the question “Where is the King of the Jews?”
            They ask, where is the Christ Child.
            And the answer they receive is shocking
—Herod and the religious leaders react with fear and cause a stampede of a whole city
—all of Jerusalem.
            As you might imagine asking the King… where the King is, could rub a guy the wrong way. In fact, if you keep reading, Herod ends up killing a whole generation of Jesus’ peers, trying to stave off competition.
            Even when the Priests and Scribes tell the wise men where to find Jesus, they don’t go—they don’t follow.
            For Herod, following would finish his kingship, for the Priests and Scribes, it would challenge their positions.

            It is not unlike Dolstoyevski’s famed short story “The Grand Inquisitor.” In it, Jesus returns during the Spanish Inquisition and the story’s namesake The Grand Inquisitor arrests and chases away Jesus rather than allow him to disrupt the Church.

            And the Church today, while not as dreadful as the Inquisition, still has some of those same tendencies, the tendency of the insider, of a Herod, of a Scribe
—to be, at times, too comfortable with the Gospel to hear it.
—To, at times, major in the Minors.

             It’s like we’re listening to Bob Dylan on our Ipod, and don’t realize we’re at a live concert!
            It’s like we’re looking for spare change in our couch, yet we’re holding the winning lottery ticket in our back pocket!
            It’s like we’ve received the whole world and we decide to fight over who gets the last French fry.

            And that’s why I thank God that the Wisemen come, bearing their gifts, the Gift of the Seeker.
            They hear the word and rush to see.
            They follow the star to the King to be!
            They are filled with such Joy at their discovery.
            They present the best they have before him.
            They’re still surprised by this thing God is doing.
            Still stunned by God’s actions for all of us
—Good news for all!
            That’s Matthew’s Gospel in a nutshell, from the Wisemen at the start to the Great Commission at the end—let All Nations Know that Jesus is born for us!

            That’s the gift, the blessing of the Wisemen and every seeker
—the gift to us who know the old old story… we get to tell it again, and experience it again, see it with fresh eyes….
            It’s like a friend of mine—when he was a new father, he got to play hopscotch in the grocery isle with his son—got to experience childhood again and see the world that had become warn and old afresh, see again how unique and special it all is.

            So too for the Church—when seekers come to hear and see, we get to tell of God’s wondrous works!
            They shake us out of our complacency, reminding us of the power of all these things we see as commonplace.
Tell them about how…
            How together as a community we’re the Body of Christ—wow!
            How in Water, Word, Wine and Bread, God comes to us… and not just to us, but to you particularly!—Wow!
            How God’s work of salvation continually expands—Beyond Jerusalem, Beyond Samaria, Beyond Rome, beyond any barrier we build, blossoming before our very surprised eyes! Wow!

            This is why Confirmation classes and new members classes are such a joy to most pastors—we get to tell that old old story again, and in doing so hear it again ourselves!
            Yes, the Church’s gift is to hold this message about God, to hold it and share it, to live it! And the Seeker’s gift is to receive it, and in so doing revive it again for all of us! That we might all be overwhelmed with Joy at what God continues to do among us!
That through the power of God Jesus is King, Divinity, and Sacrifice.
That Justice and Mercy have found us in Jesus, that God has acted and continues to act!