Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
December 24, 2016
4:30 pm Christmas Eve
Matthew 2: 1-11 – The Message, adapted
1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in the territory of Judah territory— during the time Herod was the king—some scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay respect to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”3-4 When word of this got to Herod, he was terrified someone was going to replace him. Herod immediately gathered all the high priests and religious scholars city together and asked, “Where do the prophets say the Messiah supposed to be born?”5-6 They told him, Micah said in “Bethlehem, in the territory of Judah. Herod then arranged a secret meeting with those travelling scholars from the East. Pretending that he wanted to worship the baby too, Herod got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. He said, “Go find this child. And as soon as you find him, send word and I’ll come right away to worship him too.” 9-10 Following the instructions of the king, they set off. The star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies, and it led them to the place where it hovered over the place of the child. They were so excited they could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time! 11 They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.
There’s a joke that says,
Three Wise Women
would have asked directions,
arrived on time,
helped deliver the baby,
brought practical gifts
cleaned the stable,
made a casserole,
and there would be peace on earth.
In the Bible the Wise Men brought __________ (gold, frankincense and myrrh). It raises a good question. What gift would you have brought to the baby Jesus? Any ideas?
Here’s another story about gifts:
It’s called WISE WOMEN ALSO CAME By Jan Richardson
Wise women also came.
The fire burned in their wombs long before they saw the flaming star in the sky.
They walked in shadows, trusting the path would open under the light of the moon.
Wise women also came, seeking no directions, no permission from any king.
They came by their own authority, their own desire, their own longing.
They came quietly, spreading no rumors [to a paranoid king], sparking no fears [that would lead to the deaths of innocents, causing] their sister Rachel’s inconsolable lamentations.
Wise women also came, and they brought useful gifts:
water for labor’s washing,
fire for warm illumination,
a blanket for swaddling.
Wise women also came, at least three of them,
holding Mary in her labor,
crying out with Mary in her birth pangs,
breathing ancient blessings into her ear.
Wise women also came, and they went, as wise women always do, home by a different way.
I like their gifts: water for washing, fire for illumination (so you can see), and a blanket for warmth. Very thoughtful and useful gifts. Like socks for homeless people and a place for people to sleep when they don’t have a home. What gift would you have brought to Jesus?
Remember those things the wise men brought? What were they? _____ (gold, frankincense and myrrh.) Why those three things? Some say they were typical gifts for a new king, but of course for Jesus they had a bigger meaning: gold represents that Jesus would one day be a king, frankincense represents an oil Jesus would use in a priestly role on earth, and myrrh is a traditional perfume used at funerals during Biblical times, which signals his eventual death.
Some scholars say these gifts were practical because they could be used as medicine. I didn’t know this before but they used to use frankincense to treat arthritis – when you have pain in your bones and joints. Or at least they did where the Three Wise Men came from in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
Other scholars agree that these were practical gifts. Mary and Joseph could have sold the gold, frankincense and myrrh to pay for shelter, food and other things that a baby needs which maybe they couldn’t afford.
Gifts can have all kinds of meanings. Like all gifts you unwrap tonight or tomorrow morning. But what about the gifts you wrapped to give away? Why did you pick out one particular gift for one person and another for someone else? What was the reason?
What I love about Jan Richardson’s story is how she added three more gifts. Not just water, fire, and a blanket,
What were they?
Holding Mary as she’s giving birth,
Crying along with her in the pain of birth,
And breathing ancient blessings into her ear.
Obviously there is more to gift giving and getting than things you can unwrap. That’s why I like these: Holding someone who is hurting. Crying with someone who is in pain. And saying the words I love you to anyone we love. Those are really important.
And they made me think about gifts that the church gives to us. I thought of these three tonight.
1) The church is a gift of safety in a world filled with too much hate. You remember how the women held Mary and cried with her in her pain? The church is the gift of a community of safety and support when times are frightening and ugly. We can come here when we are hurting and in pain.
2) You know how the women breathed words of ancient blessings into Mary’s ear? One of the gifts our church gives is speaking words of hope – but not just empty words. It’s about having what we call a prophetic witness. So that means we take it seriously when the Bible commands us to love one another and seek justice for the poor. The real blessings of hope come from the truth spoken by ancient prophets like Isaiah and Micah and Jeremiah and of course Jesus. Words of truth so that when people act like bullies, and there’s a lot of bullies out there right now, as Christians we say stop. Before we can say “let’s all get along,” we have to tell bullies they are bullies and stop them from hurting any more people. That is the gift of real hope.
And gift 3)…You. You are the gift the church gives to all of us. So I want to say, “Thank you!” You being here tonight is the best gift I could receive today. That and Marlene Lederer’s homemade caramel rolls! And a hug on the way out the door.
What kind of gift would you have brought to Jesus? Why? And what could you give Jesus right now?