Message title: ‘Three Gifts the Wise Still Give’
When Pastor Jim and I were visiting over in Germany this past summer, we found ourselves standing in the middle of a wood carver’s shop. Having been drawn in by the incredible manger scenes displayed in the windows, our goal became not to leave without purchasing one. Well, after spending several hours of inspecting and re-inspecting every single figurine right down to the very last finger and hoof, the young lady who was helping me finally said those magic words, ‘What about the Wise Men? Some people consider them a part of the Christmas story…and others do not.’ What the young lady was stating was absolutely true. Needless to say, to Pastor Jim’s relief, we decided not to mix the Gospel stories. The Wise Men remained in Germany.
The Magi, as they are labeled in the original Greek text, can be found in Matthew’s version of the Christmas story…but not in Luke’s. Matthew’s focus is not on shepherds and angels appearing out in the fields. In fact, he doesn’t even mention their being there at all. What Matthew does mention, however, is that “Wise Men from the east…came to Jerusalem.” Which reminds me.
In seminary, I was taught never to mix the Gospels. Meaning, that each one has a story to tell and that each Gospel writer brings to that story their own unique perspective. Today, is a classic example of why we don’t want to mix the Gospels. Because once again, you and I are being asked to answer for ourselves the age old question that arises on this day every single year…
‘What about the Wise Men? Do they have any bearing on our understanding of Christmas…or not?’
Before we go there, listen to what Episcopal priest and theologian, Barbara Brown Taylor has to offer:
‘So much has been made about this story about which we know so little. They were not kings, of course, and there were not three of them, at least not according to Matthew. We do not know who they were, where they came from, or how many of them there were. We do not know how long it took for them to get to Bethlehem…or how old Jesus was when they got there. In truth, and this one may come as a surprise…we’re not even sure about that famous star. It’s not that the facts don’t matter. It is just that they don’t matter as much as the stories do, and we all know…stories can be true…whether they happen or not.’
What Taylor goes on to say is that whether or not we believe the story about the Wise Men…doesn’t really matter. What matters, is how we are affected by the story…any story for that matter…over time. Which may explain why we in the church need to hear the same Bible stories over and over and over again. The hope being that one day we’ll be struck by an ‘epiphany moment’ when all of a sudden a light bulb goes off and for the very first time we actually ‘see’ what God is trying to reveal to us.
Personally, I believe that there are lessons yet to be learned from the story of the Wise Men…and the place we’re going to begin with can be found in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 2, beginning with verse #1.
Notice that they didn’t hesitate. They didn’t pause for one moment. They didn’t dare give their usual excuse of ‘let’s wait until tomorrow’ because they knew that this was a once in a life time opportunity. Matthew says the Wise Men came…not knowing what they would find, what the ultimate cost would be, nor how long they would be gone. And yet, the gift that suddenly began to well up inside of them was the gift of “hope”. Hope for the future…hope in knowing that they were born to be a part of something much bigger than themselves…something that would take their breath away…if only…they came.
From his book, One Incredible Moment, author Max Lucado writes: ‘When everyone else looked at the night sky and saw only darkness, they were the ones who saw the light. The sight of the star sparked a desire in their hearts that sent them packing. They went, looking for Jesus.’ Can the same be said of us? When darkness comes into our world, what do we see: the darkness…or the stars? Hopelessness…or hopefulness? According to Max, sometimes God uses the darkness in order to reveal his stars: “The light shines in the darkness”. Lesson #1: Like the Wise Men, give God your gift of hope.
Lesson #2: give God your gift of time. The Wise Men did. Before they gave God their presents, they gave God their presence. We don’t have any idea how much time it took the Wise Men to locate Jesus. Again to quote Max: ‘Before the one incredible moment that they knelt before Jesus, the Wise Men spent countless moments, months, perhaps years searching in anticipation of that meeting. Just as the Wise Men committed themselves to seeking the Savior, so can we.’ Which leads us right up to our most important lesson.
Lesson #3: Give God your gift of worship. It is probable that these men were all men of wealth, intellect, and influence. And yet when they came face to face with the child, Matthew says, they fell face down and worshipped him. Picture it if you can. Three old men…finally seeing with their very own eyes…what the world had longed to see. The word of God made flesh. Immanuel. God with us…in a way that He had never been seen on earth before.
What about the Wise Men? According to Matthew’s Gospel, they were there. All because they came…with the gift of hope in their hearts. Understanding that no matter how much time it took, no matter what the cost... they had been drawn there for just one purpose: to worship the newborn King. May we be so blessed…to realize the same. The gifts of hope, time, and worship. Three gifts…the wise still give. Three lessons to last a lifetime. Amen