Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Wise Guy Sermon

Here is the sermon that I gave at Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa today, January 3, 2010.

Even though today is still in the Christmas season the Gospel lesson tells us the story of the Wise Men. Epiphany is the time when we celebrate the coming to the three Wise Men to meet Jesus and their encounter with King Herod

But have you ever stopped to think what would have happened if it had been the three Wise Women instead of three Wise Men?

  1. They would have asked directions in Bethlehem rather than feeling that they needed to stop off at the Palace in Jerusalem,

  2. They would have arrived on time,

  3. They would have helped deliver the baby; they would have cleaned the stable and given practical gifts – like bringing a casserole and

  4. There would be Peace on Earth.

But who were these wise men – the Magi?

Very little is known about the Magi.

Matthew doesn’t even record how many of them there were.

All the Bible tells us is that they came from the East to Jerusalem. And so it is more than likely they were not Jews but Gentiles.

Popular myth calls them astrologers but that wasn’t necessarily so.

It is generally accepted that the Magi were a priestly caste from Persia where modern Iran and Iraq are now located.

In the second century, a church father named Tertullian suggested that these men were kings because the Old Testament had predicted that kings would come to worship the Christ. Tertullian also concluded that there were three kings based on the number of gifts mentioned, gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In the sixth century, someone decided that their names were Melchior, Baltazar and Gaspar.

And the term Magi is the base from which our modern words magician and magistrate are derived.

I would like to focus on the gifts they brought. If the Scripture can be bothered to record them so carefully - there must be a reason for doing so.

The gifts were: gold, frankincense and myrrh

The first gift was Gold.

Gold signifies Jesus’ Kingly role. What is more fitting than gold for a King!

If Jesus is to be the King in my life, then I am challenged by the thought: What gold can I bring to Jesus today?

In other words: What do we hold onto as precious that we can give to God?

The second gift was frankincense. Why did they give frankincense to Jesus?

Frankincense was an ingredient used by the priests in temple worship to blend with the smell of the sacrifices.

To me it signifies Jesus’ priestly role.

Jesus was the King of Jews, but he was also the "great high priest."

The writer of the book of Hebrews expressed it like this:

"For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people."

As Paul puts it, One of Jesus’ greatest desires is that we offer up our lives as a sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.

In other words, that we live for God and cultivate a deep relationship with Him

So the gift of Frankincense speaks to me of a daily time of quiet that we should spend with Jesus - in prayer and Bible Study.

This is often the hardest time to find. As we live busy lives, this is the first thing that gets pushed to the bottom of the pile.

Is this the gift you can bring to Jesus today? Our gift of time?

The third gift was myrrh.

Myrrh is a very intense perfume. In Jesus’ time, people used Myrrh on their dead. A thoughtless gift, you might say for a baby shower?

Not for this baby. For myrrh signifies the death of Jesus. These wise men, in their wisdom knew that Jesus was born to die.

The writer of the book of Hebrews put it like this: ".. we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."

So when I think of myrrh, I am challenged to think of why Jesus came to earth – to die for the sins of all the world. And that makes me consider mission work.

Jesus has called his Church to share the Good News to all nations.

Is a willingness to share the good news of Jesus with your friends and neighbors the gift that you might bring to Jesus today.

Or perhaps you might consider supporting a mission through Episcopal Relief and Development or helping out in our Swaziland fund instead?

In conclusion, I’d like to leave you with a thought from the presents that the Magi brought to Jesus.

What Gold, Frankincense or Myrrh do you believe God is calling you to bring to Christ at this time?

Gold – do we have something we hold precious that we can offer to Jesus?

Frankincense – are we prepared to give more time that we hold precious to God each day– for example a longer time of quiet with Him each day and

Myrrh –are we prepared to be more willing to share the Gospel, its good news and sacrifice, with those around us?

My prayer for all of us is that we are willing to give these three gifts to God today, tomorrow, and all throughout this year


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