Our Gifts to the King
January 6, 2013
We three kings of orient are…
Although the Magi are relatively minor characters in the story of Jesus' life, they capture our imagination, don't they? We can just imagine these three mighty kings from the Far East, leaving their kingdoms to bow before the king that is mightier than all of them put together. They bring these wonderful gifts to lay before him, and they trick Herod by going home a different way.
It makes a great story, but it isn't quite true.
v Let's look at the story a little closer. First, there are three clues that give us some time references.
· In the time of King Herod, in Bethlehem of Judea,
· On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother;
Here we learn, much to our disappointment, that the wise men and the shepherds didn't all join in the classic nativity scene as we often picture them. That's why I have taken the shepherds out of the nativity today: to remind us that the wise men came later. "After Jesus was born," the passage says; they "entered the house," not the stable. Even though this story is next to the Christmas story, it is not chronologically part of it.
In fact, we think the wise men might have arrived as much as 2 years after that first Christmas. Do you remember, Herod asks about the exact time when the star appeared? In the next story, he has all the children under 2 years of age killed. If it had only been a year since the star appeared, he could have chosen 1 year of age. Do you follow me? We don't know when for sure, but somewhere in here there is a time lapse. Perhaps the wise men came 2 years after Jesus was born. Perhaps they were there sooner, but Herod was waiting for them to come back, and of course, they didn't. He might have been waiting quite some time.
This is the reason we celebrate the wise men on Epiphany day rather than Christmas. They are really two separate stories.
v The Story calls them "wise men. " The word is Magi, from which we get the word magic. However, they were not magicians. They were more like astrologers. "Magi" was a term that referred to priests of the Zoroastrian religion, which is also called Ma-gi'-an-ism. It comes from the part of the world that is now Iraq, and there are still Ma-gi'-an-ists today perhaps somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000. Therefore, we know that they didn't come from the FAR EAST, but from about 600 miles east, and probably traveled about 3 weeks.
v They "observed his star at its rising" This is one of the great mysteries of the gospels. What is this star? It wasn't likely a comet, or an asteroid, or even a supernova. There have been theories about astrological alignment and retrograde movements that are quite interesting, but the bottom line is, we don't know. Astronomers struggle to explain how any star but the North Star can stay over one place for very long. We just have to be honest and say… we don't know.
v The story goes on to say that they came to Herod. That is a mystery to me because they were following the star and it had not stopped yet. Why would they stop? Of course, it was a natural mistake to believe that the current king who rules over the Jews would be the father of the next king. That is usually the way those things worked, but not in this case.
v When the magi find Jesus, they worship him. That is what "paying homage" means. As their offering, they brought 3 gifts. Now this is the time to point out that there are three gifts so we envision each king carrying one gift. The truth is we don't know how many Magi there were. There could have been two there could have been 20.
v The gifts are of Gold (which represents Christ as King) frankincense (which was an incense used in the temple by the priests so that represents that he is our High Priest) and Myrrh (which was used for anointing the dead- symbolizing his death) And let's be clear, these were not bribes, they were not obligatory, these were true gifts given simply because they believed that this baby was God's greatest gift to all people.
Let's zoom back from some of those details, and ask what message we are to hear from this story.
First, I am intrigued by the involvement of the stars. So far, we have had angels doing all the speaking. In this story, we see that this birth of Jesus was much bigger than we thought. If the stars are proclaiming the birth of Christ, this is not just a normal baby. This is not even a special baby. If the heavens are declaring his glory, the whole creation is involved with this special birth. This is the most important thing since creation. It is literally a "cosmic event"
There are plenty of religions that tell stories about a savior. Plenty of religions have great teachers. Plenty of religions have messiah figures. In Christ, however, something completely different is happening. God himself is taking on flesh. Do you realize how earth shattering that is? Those of us who have heard this story 1000 times don't realize the cosmic significance of a creator who voluntarily becomes the created in order to save all creation. No other religion believes in a God that loves people so much, that he will take on the fullness of humanity, to the point of even dying, in order to deliver all people from sin and death.
And when I say all people, I mean ALL PEOPLE. At risk of stating the obvious, the story is not about the priests coming to worship Jesus. It is not about Pharisees coming to worship Jesus. It is not even about Samaritans coming to worship Jesus. These Magi are foreigners. They aren't children of the covenant. Let me go one step further, they were not just foreigners, they were gentile foreigners because they did not worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Let me go one step further. They were not only foreigners and gentiles; they were pagan. These guys were Zoroastrianists, which is a whole different religion.
So, why do you suppose God let these Magi- these foreigners- these gentiles- these pagans be part of the story? Because he loves them and died for them too. This little story of the Magi is the best news possible for those who are outside of the mainstream of faith. Because it says that no one is too far outside the mainstream to be loved by God. No one is too different to be accepted by God. No one is too far away to be redeemed by God. No one-- no one is beyond the reach of God's saving work. Not even us, no matter what our fears and failures might be. If God uses the magi for his purposes, God for sure can find a job for you.
And finally, how do we respond to this gift of cosmic proportions, the proper response to God's greatest gift to all people is … worship… paying homage… adoration… devotion. When we receive a gift, we say "thank you. " When we are offered such a magnificent gift, as we are in the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, "thank you" just doesn't seem like enough.
But, what more can we do? We can follow the lead of the wise men and offer gifts. Oh, man! I left my frankincense in my other pants, right? No, I am not talking about Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.
I am not even talking about money- not directly anyway. Let me ask you this.
Do you think God would rather have your money, or your love? Love.
Do you think God would rather have your money, or your adoration? Adoration.
Do you think God would rather have your money, or your prayers? I Thessalonians 5:17 says "pray without ceasing. " If God get's a hold of you in prayer, he can get your whole life.
Do you think God would rather have your money, or your presence? I'll bet God is like me. I'll take one person who shows up to do ministry over 2 that just send their money any day.
Do you think God would rather have your money, or your gifts? By that, I mean the passions, and skills and abilities that God loaned to you so he could use them any time he wants.
Do you think God would rather have your money, or your service? "IF you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me. "
Do you think God would rather have your money, or your witness? I don't remember God saying write a check to all the world, but I do remember Jesus saying, "Go into all the world, and preach."
You can leave your frankincense and Myrrh at home, because your whole life is your gift to God. Bring that gift to God just like the Magi. Never, ever forget, however, why they brought their gifts and why we bring our gifts. Because in Jesus Christ God gave the greatest gift of all to us.
We give because God first gave to us.
We serve because in Jesus Christ God first knelt down and washed our feet.
We love because God first loved us.