In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “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.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘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.’ ”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then 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.” 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. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On 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. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. (NRSV)
Grace to you and peace from God our creator, from Jesus Christ, our redeemer and friend and from the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and guide.
Many of you know that I grew up on a farm. One of my family’s firmest rules was that on Christmas morning, no one could touch any of the presents under the tree until Dad was done doing the chores. There would be no Christmas fun until the pigs and the cattle had been fed. This was always hard, but one Christmas in particular it was very hard! I was probably 7 or 8 years old, and much to all of our surprise, when we came down the stairs that Christmas morning, behold, there was a HUGE box in the middle of the floor. It must have been a washing machine box or something like that because it took up the whole center of the floor it seemed. Who could it be for? Amazingly, it was for me!
Now, there is a protocol for opening presents in the Seyb household, so I had to wait my turn. But once it was my turn, I could tear into that pretty red paper to see what in the world would be in that huge box! Much to my surprise, there was a bunch of wadded up newspapers in there, but once I dug down a ways, I discovered there were a number of smaller packages in the big box. Now I had to wait for my turn to come around again to open the next present inside that box!
On this Epiphany day, as we recognize the Christ child was already revealing God’s love for the whole world through the star that guided the magi to the baby Jesus, we realize that the gift of faith is something that needs to be unwrapped and unpacked throughout our lives. Unwrap it and unpack it so you can use it. God wants us to use it.
The magi, wise men from the East, not Jews. Not of Hebrew heritage; foreigners. They were the ones that recognized the birth of the Christ child. They came bearing gifts. They came to honor the newborn king. Because of their example, we give gifts at Christmas. Through them, Matthew is telling us the gift of salvation is for all people. The gift of faith is a gift that keeps on giving. It is a gift that will continually need to be unpacked and unwrapped.
In the children’s message today, all the kids said they had unwrapped their presents and had played with the toys; worn the clothing. They knew that present are given to be used. None of their present were still under the Christmas tree. (They did inform me that their tree was already taken down, so their presents couldn’t be under the tree!) It is our calling and task to use our gift of faith, to access God in prayer and scripture, to unwrap it new every morning, to examine what we are called to do and to respond with action. We have been given the gift of faith, it is up to us to decide what to do with it.
I hope you will receive the gift you have been given, and decide to give it away. Share the good news of God’s love. Be bearers of the promise of forgiveness. It is the irony of the gift of faith that if we receive it and keep it for ourselves, it seems to disintegrate. It slips between our fingers. But if we receive it and promptly give it away, passing it along to our neighbors and friends, amazingly, we never get to the end of the gift. We never get to the bottom of the box. On other hand, if we try to keep it all for ourselves, receiving the gift of faith and think that it is just for our own comfort and joy, pretty soon we’ll realize all we have is an empty box. By giving it away, the box is never empty. I don’t know how it works, it is the magic of Christmas.
So in this moment of silence, I pray you will consider the gift of faith you have been given. How will you use that gift? How will you continue to dig through the box, unpacking it, sharing it, using it for God’s glory?
… Silence for reflection…
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Blessings to you,
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.