What gift would you bring to give to Jesus?
We’ve just come out of the season of gift giving and gift buying and I’m pretty sure we’re out of the season when people wait in really long lines at the store, just to participate in that yearly holiday tradition- gift returning.
But this Sunday we celebrate one more day of gift-giving before the season is through. The first Sunday in January in the church’s liturgical calendar is the observed celebration of Epiphany. Epiphany is the day when Jesus Christ is revealed as Lord for all people, symbolized by the visit of the Wise Men or the Magi from the East. These gentiles came to visit Jesus and worship Him, bringing gifts from afar to lay before him. From the biblical account we know little about these wise men who travelled so far to visit Jesus but we learn a bit more from extra-biblical accounts. There were three wise men according to tradition, the names of the wise men and were they came from was: Melchior from Persia, Caspar from India and Balthazar from Arabia, with variations on those names depending on the translations and language. Sometimes there are hints of a fourth magi, a mystery. We learn also from the extra-biblical material that according to tradition St. Thomas, also known as doubting Thomas by many, during his missionary journey to India baptized the three magi and they went on each to die a martyr’s death for the sake of Christ.
The gifts that the Magi bring are steeped in symbolism: gold of rich value, a kingly gift, frankincense (an incense) rising up to God and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of suffering and death. You might remember from the song, We Three Kings, “Glorious now behold Him arise, King and God and sacrifice.” Gifts given; fitting for a king, for God, for his sacrifice.
But notice how each of these gifts given are not gifts that reflect what the magi have to offer. This was not a set of bath towels with Melchior’s name stitched inside. Instead each of these gifts are a reflection of who Jesus is and who He came to be. The gifts of a responsive faith that gives back to God the only thing it can, the gift that God has already given.
We hear the story of the Wise Men kneeling down in supplication before the child Jesus and the astonished Mary and Joseph; who probably thought they wouldn’t see any more astonishing things, since the angels and visions, and we are invited to be a part of the story. We are asked to be the fourth magi in the story, standing there behind the three as they kneel before Jesus. There He is before us, we are standing in front of the Christ child, God incarnate, the king of all, the sacrifice for our sins, what do we do? What do we have to offer?
What do you give to a King, but not an earthly king but the eternal king of all, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? What amount of gold would suffice? What do you give to God who from his very fingertips creation itself began, time began ticking and life breathed its first breath. How much frankincense is right? But then you look at the myrrh and you are stopped cold in your tracks. This Jesus, both King and God and sacrifice, the suffering servant, the man of sorrows who takes away the sin of the world; what do you give to the one who will give everything for your sake, for your life, for your salvation? You realize in that moment that your hands are completely empty; there is nothing you have to give that is right for Jesus.
Here we have a choice. This is a place where pride can get in our way. We really don’t like showing up to the party without a gift in our hands and we like it much less that there isn’t a gift that we can bring, our hands are empty with nothing to give. So what do we do? Do we walk away and say this was a lousy party anyways and I like being the one in charge? Do we try to forget this whole Jesus thing that really points out to us our neediness by keeping really busy and trying to fill that God-shaped hole with stuff that just don’t fit? Do we say, I’ll come back later when I’ve got my act together and I’m less needy, then I’ll have something to give?
Or do we do what must be done, where we once were standing in front of Jesus now our knees break and we fall before Jesus with empty hands outstretched before the King and God and sacrifice, and simply receive. Receive his Kingly gifts of peace and pardon that is worth more than any gold. Receive his divine gifts of eternal life and purpose and meaning that rise like beautiful incense. Receive his anointing filled with mercy, his forgiveness his making you whole. Simply receive and be in your God’s presence.
That’s worship you know, receiving God’s gifts, that is why the liturgical Lutheran service that is called the Divine Service, it is God’s service to us giving us His gifts.
As we receive his gifts we find to our great surprise that our hands are no longer empty but are filled with God’s sufficiency. Lord, I have nothing to give but what you have given and all I have to give is all you’ve given me. The gifts of a responsive faith that gives back to God the only thing it can, the gift that God has already given.
Faith responds to my Jesus’ sacrifice in the sacrifice of faith, a broken and contrite heart and empty hands willing to receive.
Faith responds to my God by giving all that He has given: my life, my breath, my being, my song, my words, my heart.
Faith responds to my King by giving all that He has given me: my time, my schedule, my bank account, my vocation, my career, my family, my moments and my days.
You realize once again that when you sit with Jesus you are never empty handed but God fills with you with His all sufficiency and gives to you all that you need because He is our King and God and sacrifice. The fourth magi came empty handed but walks away with arms filled. Amen.