Sunday, January 6, 2019
Epiphany of Our Lord, Year C

Prayer of the Day
Almighty and ever-living God, you revealed the incarnation of your Son by the brilliant shining of a star. Shine the light of your justice always in our hearts and over all lands, and accept our lives as the treasure we offer in your praise and for your service, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 60:1-6 Nations come to the light
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Ephesians 3:1-12 The gospel’s promise extends to all
Matthew 2:1-12 Revelation of Christ to the nations of the earth

Sermon
Title:  The Gift Revealed in the Gift

It is a well-worn, often-told Christmas story in my family.  It must have been around 1968.  Making me 8 and my sister 10.  Though we showed our Swedish roots most at Christmas time, we were very American in that we did not open gifts until Christmas morning.  So, it was typical that it was hard to sleep that Christmas eve night, (a challenge for just about every kid.) And, no surprise, it was very hard to stay in bed no matter how early on Christmas morning we awoke.  That year, one of us, not sure who, got up much earlier than usual.  It was still very dark.  Nighttime dark, not pre-sunrise dark.  We should have known it was much to early to get up but tell that to our excited childhood selves.  We left my brother sleeping, and Susan and I grabbed a flashlight and started to sneak downstairs.  The one obstacle was Uncle Vale asleep on the living room couch.  He was laid out as if the guard of the Christmas tree and all its gifts had such faith in the world that he didn’t feel a need to stay awake.

We were clear-headed enough to know that it was too early to go all the way down into the living room and start exploring the gifts, reading name tags to see what was going to belong to whom.  But with our trusty flashlight we could at least scan the gifts from our perch on the staircase.

Now, sometimes there were gifts that were too big to wrap.  And sure enough, this year there was one such gift.  And the beam of light caught sight of it.  It was dark blue (my favorite color at the time), it had a long seat, a gear shift designed to imitate what you would find in a sports car. And its name was in big letters across one of the support bars that ran between the handlebars and the seat.  It was called a Chopper.  Didn’t even know such a bicycle existed, but now I knew I had needed one all along, and it was love at first sight.  And I knew this was for me.  We calmed ourselves down enough to go back to bed for a few more hours before the official opening of the gifts would begin with everyone present.

Uncle Vale would later complain about someone shining a flashlight in his eyes while he was trying to sleep.  All I knew was that I had a new bicycle.

Go into any home around Christmas time, take a look at the gifts under the tree, and you can make some pretty safe assumptions about the people who will be receiving them.  Anyone seeing that bike under our tree would rightly assume there was an avid bike rider in the house.   As gift givers, there is nothing better than finding that perfect gift to give the people for whom you are searching for that special treasure.  This year, purely by chance, I stumbled on what turned out to be a perfect gift for Scott.  It is a wallet that you can locate with your phone.  And, this is the best part, if you have this magical wallet, it can help you find your phone.  Of course, if you have neither, well, God bless you.

This morning, as we see those magi, those magicians from a far off land, those Gentiles who really shouldn’t understand all these Messiah dreams and longings that have been filling the people of Judea for a long time, it is they who present the new born Jesus with the perfect set of gifts that tell us a lot about who this child is.  Born in mystery, heralded by angels, welcomed by shepherds.  It is these foreigners, traveling in a caravan of all things, who reveal some of the truth about this child.

Gold is presented, revealing him for the king that he is.  The finest metal.  Valued by all the world.  Made into crowns and scepters, thrones and adornments.  A symbol that only the finest is to be presented before a king.  And yet, earth sees its kings living in fine palaces, leading strong armies, ruling over vast empires and great numbers of subjects.  How is one who appears so weak and fragile, so poor and lowly, so typical and humble worthy of such a royal gift as gold?

Frankincense is next offered.  The finest resin.  An offering for gods.  Filling temples with fragrant, wafting smoke, so that the divine beings are not offended by the stench of our earthly existence.  It veils our humanity so as not to be an affront to their perfection.  And yet, this precious gift for deities is brought to this child who is flesh like us, who cries and hungers, laughs and plays, works and sleeps like us. How is it that a being who is sharing our life bears the lofty title of divine?

Finally, Myrrh is given.  Both its property and its presence are bitter.  It is the perfume used at the time of death.  It covers the stench of decaying flesh.  Seeks to sweeten the heartbreaking pain of loss.  And yet, this is brought as a gift for a child, a newborn, life just beginning.  While the other two gifts speak to his identity, this one speaks to his mission, to his purpose.  He has come to conquer every foe, even death.  Even if it means dying himself.  Just so that we might have life through him and in him.  Perhaps this is the gift that we can find the most joy in seeing given to this mysterious babe of Bethlehem.  The gift that reveals him to us and reveals our deepest need of him.

These gifts are is the beginning of the revelations regarding Jesus who is God’s anointed, our longed-for messiah.  As paradoxical as these revelations may be; growing in understanding and embracing the A-ha’s is what this season of Epiphany is all about.  This year, the calendar gives us a nice long Epiphany season, stretching all the way to the first Sunday in March.  Let us take time to explore the manifestations and revelations of God that are revealed in this child who is the word of God incarnate, the heart of God in human form, the God made visible who witnesses to the God who is invisible.  For in growing in understanding of this gift that God has given us and all creation, we learn who we are and what we most need.  Perhaps like that kid on the steps with a flashlight, we discover and fall in love with something we didn’t even know is there or how much we needed it.  Noting also that, while the gift may tell us something about the recipient, it also tells us about the giver.

This gift of Jesus, freely and mercifully sent to us in our need from a loving God who is all in all, in this child we see revealed:  Our merciful friend who brings love, our good shepherd who provides guidance and protection, our victorious Savior who brings us out of death into life, our wonderful Counselor who enlightens us with wisdom, our just Ruler who reigns with peace, our trusted Teacher who leads us in ways of goodwill and service.

God knows us well.  God gives us the gift we need.  God even gives us the gift of faith through the work of the Holy Spirit to embrace this gift and see it revealed to us.  Let the revelations of this season not only reveal the gift given, but also the truth about our need for this babe and all he brings.

Arise, shine, your light has come.  And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

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