Finding The Perfect Gift
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,
a 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its
rising, and have come to pay him homage.’
b 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
c 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.”’
d 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.
e 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’
9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.
f 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
g 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Mateo 2; 1-12
2 Después de que Jesús nació en Belén de Judea en tiempos del rey Herodes, llegaron a Jerusalén unos sabios procedentes del Oriente.
2 —¿Dónde está el que ha nacido rey de los judíos? —preguntaron—. Vimos levantarse su estrella y hemos venido a adorarlo.
3 Cuando lo oyó el rey Herodes, se turbó, y toda Jerusalén con él. 4 Así que convocó de entre el pueblo a todos los jefes de los sacerdotes y maestros de la ley, y les preguntó dónde había de nacer el Cristo.
5 —En Belén de Judea —le respondieron—, porque esto es lo que ha escrito el profeta:
6 »“Pero tú, Belén, en la tierra de Judá,
de ninguna manera eres la menor entre los principales de Judá;
porque de ti saldrá un príncipe
que será el pastor de mi pueblo Israel.”
7 Luego Herodes llamó en secreto a los sabios y se enteró por ellos del tiempo exacto en que había aparecido la estrella. 8 Los envió a Belén y les dijo:
—Vayan e infórmense bien de ese niño y, tan pronto como lo encuentren, avísenme para que yo también vaya y lo adore.
9 Después de oír al rey, siguieron su camino, y sucedió que la estrella que habían visto levantarse iba delante de ellos hasta que se detuvo sobre el lugar donde estaba el niño. 10 Al ver la estrella, se llenaron de alegría. 11 Cuando llegaron a la casa, vieron al niño con María, su madre; y postrándose lo adoraron. Abrieron sus cofres y le presentaron como regalos oro, incienso y mirra. 12 Entonces, advertidos en sueños de que no volvieran a Herodes, regresaron a su tierra por otro camino.
Finding the Perfect Gift
We are about to wrap up and tie a bow on the end of the gift-giving
season. From a faith standpoint, Tuesday is the day demarcated as, “The Epiphany
of our Lord,” but since the overwhelming odds are that this sanctuary will be a little emptier on Tuesday, we will go ahead celebrating Epiphany today. And essential for Epiphany is the exchanging of gifts...which, at least for me, brings to the fore how hard it can be to find the right gift for someone. If you were considering giving someone an Epiphany gift, you might want to opt for twelve drummers drumming. Epiphany is officially the last of the twelve days of Christmas.
Exchanging gifts to celebrate Jesus’ birth began circa two thousand years ago and the practice has been co-opted by culture, perhaps a good thing, and consumerism, perhaps not such a good thing. Thanks, in part, to what we know understand as three wise men, this is the time of year is the moment on our annual calendars to exchange presents. And when it comes to gift exchanging, there is no better model than the exchange between the wise men and the baby Jesus. On the surface there is no ostensible gift exchange as the baby Jesus did not spend, dare I say a JC Penny on anything for the wise men—but as we will see, the gift exchange is profound—and the wise men’s journey to exchange gifts has timeless implications on our journeys of faith.
Let us pray: Word made Flesh, as we meditate upon your message, help us not only to better seek you in all that we do, but make us aware of the many ways in which you have sought us and know us. We know that sometimes a little extra spark of awareness is all that we need to be guided to you: our great and humble king. And now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Sometimes in life, we are not searching for anything extraordinary, and it just simply finds us. On his radio program that endured from the 1950’s-through
the 1990’s, Paul Harvey told the story of a woman entering a Haagen-Dazs ice cream parlor and ordering an ice cream cone. After making her selection, she turns to casually graze at the clientele, and finds herself face-to-face with none other than Paul Newman. He was in the woman’s hometown filming a
movie. Newman’s blue eyes caused her knees to buckle. She managed to pay for her cone. Then she quickly leaves the shop with her heart pounding. Regaining her composure, the woman realizes that she doesn’t have her ice cream cone. So she returns to the store only to meet Paul Newman at the door yet again—and he addresses her directly. “Are you looking for your ice cream cone?” She nods unable to speak. “You put it in your purse with your change.”
Today, the magi of Epiphany are engaged in a search. They are of means, well-educated, and possess earthly authority, and they travel far for this
journey. You will recall that they follow that infamous star in the east, journeying to “pay homage,” to the newborn king of the Jews. The Zoroastrian priests, who we have come to know as the wise men or three kings, come bearing what are indisputably the most well-known Christmas gifts ever presented.
Some scholars believe there may have actually been twelve or more magi on journey. History says three because of the number of gifts, but for the sake of the story, the magi better-known Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar, come with gold—a gift fit for a king, frankincense, a gift worthy of divinity, and myrrh, a perfume that had many ancient historical uses, including purification at the time of anointing. I suspect that the magi lost little sleep pondering which gifts to bring for the new king. From their perspective, the big search was not for just the right gift to give but rather, their presents were their presence as they sought to pay homage. And we may suspect that they were in search of what they perceived to be a special baby that would be the fulfillment of ancient scripture. They were looking for something. For them, the meaning was found in a pilgrimage and how
extraordinary, because these magi are not from the same religious tradition that Jesus is born into. They are Gentiles—foreigners. They are a reminder that sometimes those who have a deepest grasp of faith are not necessarily the insiders. And even more fascinating, Bible commentator Paul Achtemeier, challenges the popular belief that the magi hailed from Persia and points to evidence that has them traveling from Babylon, (Feasting on the Word, Year C Vol. 4, Pg. 213). Babylon is where the Hebrews were taken into exile when Nebuchadnezzar sieged Jerusalem in 605 BCE. Thus, these distinguished visitors who came to pay homage come from the place in which the Hebrews were held in captivity for sixty years.
The magi took gifts but I would argue that they were in search of one. And as scripture holds, they received one that is worth more than gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Upon arriving to the place where Jesus lay, they were, “overwhelmed with joy.” They experienced pure unadulterated joy while finding the Christ-child.
The intrigue of the magi may initially be their foreign origin and the enigma that surrounds them. But the magi are not so foreign. They are us, when we find ourselves in this life in search of deep meaning. They represent the searcher in each one of us. They embody the human conscious or subconscious desire to get a hold on ultimate meaning in life—or what author Viktor Frankl calls in his book Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning, “the most human need—the need to find and fulfill meaning in our lives,” (Pg. 140). Ours is a faith that may manifest many of its fruits in a public setting—but it is a faith that first transforms us on the inside. All the actions of an individual and a community are first expressions of something that is going on in here.
I mentioned during last Sunday’s service that Advent and Christmas are positioned at the beginning of the liturgical calendar. They are the launching pad of our worship journey for an entire year. It is well-timed with our Gregorian
calendar because we begin our journey with the magi on the first Sunday of the year. This is the time for resolutions; for making goals—for hitting the reset button. This is a time to begin to seek meaning in our lives in 2015. The magi knew, at least to some degree what they were searching for.
What is it you are searching for? What are we searching for as a congregation? Maybe it is for a sign affirming our life direction. Maybe it is for a renewed sense of purpose. And a companion question: Do we know what may be keeping us from finding what we are looking for? Another aspect of our faith tradition is the prison that we can provide for ourselves. It may sound funny put this way, but we are the biggest barriers to finding deeper meaning. Call it our sinfulness, call it the ego, call it confusion. That may be why Francis of Assisi wrote that, “Above all the grace and gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.” Us getting in the way of ourselves is the reason we need to search—the reason why the meaning may not greet us face-to-face—at least without a search.
It is not hard to find a social commentator who believes that finding meaning today, in our society, is complex. The deck may seem stacked against a fruitful search for meaning. Commentator Stephen Bauman believes, “We live in a time of great spiritual agitation,” (Ibid. Pg. 212), and Frankl put it like this, “No doubt, our industrialized society is out to satisfy all human needs, and its companion, consumer society, is even out to create ever new needs to satisfy; but the most human need—the need to find and fulfill meaning in our live—is frustrated by this society,” (Pg. 140) And, with regards to the young in our midst, he adds, “It is in particular the young generation who is most affected by the resulting feeling of meaninglessness...Such phenomena as addiction, aggression, and depression are, in the final analysis, due to a sense of futility,” (Ibid).
May we not be afraid to search for manger that holds the newborn king. May we not be too busy to discover what is most important. May we have the courage to find strength to block out the pressures of society and the humility to rely on others and on our faith to do so.
The magi, the searchers, brought gifts. But they were rewarded with a gift of ultimate meaning in their search. The gift exchange was with God. They presented that which they possessed of earthly value and God gave a gift, His only Son, to humanity. A gift of heavenly worth. We may never find the perfect gift to give to another, but God offers what we may characterize as the perfect gift out of pure sacrifice and love, and one that leads to transcendence—or dare I say salvation. We may not all discover the gift the same way or at the same time and that is as it is meant to be. Foreign magi seem to discover it more quickly than those in its midst of here the gift first appeared. I am of the spiritual ilk that that gift will break into all of creation—into everyone’s life, in this one, or in the beyond. But let us live with the disposition to search for it. That, I believe is the ultimate purpose of the journey for everyone—to be resolved to search.
I read about a man near the end of his earthly journey who may have found God’s perfect gift. At 92-years-old, he is a well-poised and proud man, who is fully dressed each morning by eight o'clock, with his hair fashionably coiffed and shaved perfectly, even though he is legally blind. He recently moved to a nursing home.
His wife of 70 years recently passed away, making the move necessary. After many hours of waiting patiently in the nursing home lobby, he smiled sweetly when told his room was ready.
As he maneuvered his walker to the elevator, he was provided with a visual description of his tiny room, including the eyelet drapes that had been hung on his window.
"I love it," he stated before getting there with the enthusiasm of an eight- year-old having just been presented with a new puppy.
"Mr. Jones, you haven't seen the room; just wait."
"That doesn't have anything to do with it," he replied.
"Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my
room or not doesn't depend on how the furniture is arranged, it's how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it."
"It's a decision I make every morning when I wake up."
"I have a choice; I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do.
Each day is a divine gift, and as long as my eyes open, I'll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I've stored away.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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You will find sermons preached by Rev. Robert Woodruff and guests preachers.