Matthew 2: 1-12 (Epiphany - 2018)
“Gifts that Belong”
It has happened already. The island of misfit things has been compiled around your homes; things that need to be returned because they were the wrong color, size, shape; electronic things incompatible with other electronic things; wrong things that were thoughtlessly given as last ditch efforts. On top of that, other things suddenly seem out-of-place: drooping decorations; overdone candles; picked through cookie tins and stockings; leftovers in the fridge that are already science experiments. Some things just no longer belong!
Would you categorize yourself in that misfitted list? In a somber moment of a classic Christmas funny, Buddy the Elf etches out a note: “I don’t belong here; I don’t belong anywhere.” Were there somber moments in the heat of Christmas joy where you sensed it too: “I don’t belong here; I don’t belong anywhere.” Like another classic character elf who wanted to be a dentist: “They can’t fire me I quit; I just don’t fit in!”
Epiphany says that you belong. Epiphany unwraps God’s greatest Gift: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16). In his Epiphany cradle, still wrapped in poverty, is the Son of God. It is the generous gift of God that stays fresh into the Epiphany season.
In today’s lesson we see other misfits resolved: Middle-Easterners travelers. They were among a country not their own, looking for King among kings not their own, following a star shining where it normally did not belong. And how many decades of arguments have taken place about what to do with these “wise men” in our Nativity Scenes and Christmas concerts! They don’t belong there! They belong somewhere ... else?
God’s Gifts to You Make you Belong
The perfect gift is found in the perfect place. You search and search for the for the rights gift for the people most dear to you. They are often the most difficult to shop for. Where to go? Where to look? The Magi looked in the right place for the Gift that God was going to give to them.
The Gift of Jesus wasn’t going to be found in their astrology maps. This out-of-place star was leading them ... to where? The truth about Jesus wasn’t going to be found in the knowledge of the rulers of the world nor in Jerusalem’s sorcery. The truth about Bethlehem was not going to be found in the man-made history books of the Roman Empire. Their search began, continued, and ended with careful search in the right place: the Scriptures.
It is the Scriptures that unwrapped Christ for them. It is the Scriptures that opened the truths about all the things that make us belong to him. It is the prophets that named Bethlehem as place where they could find him (Micah 5:2). It is the Psalms that sing of his salvation gifts. Isaiah tells the truths of this Israelite King revealed to the Magi. Herod and the chief priests were blind to that truth, but the Spirit opened the hearts of these travelers through his Word.
It is a sad thing when we see brothers and sisters leave our fellowship for something else. They grow tired of the careful search. They want to hear something else to suit their own opinions or lifestyles. They don’t want to know the truth. They want something … else. Sin longs for belonging to to the world because the Word of God rightfully makes our sinful nature feel unwelcomed.
But we know that sinful longing, too. We are easily fascinated by something else. We grow weary of the same manna. We get lazy when it comes to the careful search of the God’s Word. We put it on the shelf or let other things push it out of the way. Our sins are misfits in the presence of God’s holy places. The Word of Truth gets assigned to the missfit shelf in our hearts. Sadly that is the same moment we stop feeling like we belong to a gracious God and to his family!
God’s Epiphany gift is the Word that makes us welcomed again: These words are written that we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we have life in his name (John 20: 31). If one of your resolutions is to read the Scriptures more often, why not join us every Sunday and we will read them for you? On Epiphany Sundays we continue to “unwrap” Christ. We see his first trips to Temple, the first attempts on his life, his Baptism, his first miracle, his first discipleship classes, his first enemies, his victory over temptations; his earliest steps toward the cross where he will purchase our right to belong to him! Through these Epiphany words we belong to Christ and to a heavenly place we now call Home!
Your Gifts Belong to God
By now Joseph and Mary had secured a more permanent home than the stables. They had found a house in town, a house to which the Magi were led. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him.” The Magi’s careful search was over. The Lord had brought them safely to Jesus. He filled them with immeasurable joy. He filled them with deep humility. They bowed down before his cradle.
Cradled now by earthly parents and humble circumstance, the Son of God was a baby steeped in need of diaper changes and nighttime feedings. The King of heaven and earth was now a newborn baby of blue collar parents far away from home. His humility received the humility of the Magi bowing down in his presence. We are not given the specifics of their worship, but it is offered on bended knees. What a fitting gift for the King of gifts: humility for humility!
What other gifts did they bring to this baby shower? Diapers and onesies? Gifts cards for Baby Gap? Bibs and bottles? No! The visit of the Magi presents another list of misfit items that seem so out-of-place. Or do they? Then “they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.”
Gold? What would a baby do with gold? I suppose the young family could trade it in for needed things. But gold was the symbol of royalty. These travelers were looking for a King! Their gifts reflected that they knew they belonged to the King of kings. Because we belong to Him, our golden gifts will show that we know it too:
As they offered gifts most rare, at your cradle, rude and bare
So may we with holy joy, pure and free from sins alloy - now that we belong to him! -
All our costliest treasures bring, Christ, to you our heavenly King! (CW 83:3)
Incense? This was no scented candle regifted from last year! Incense recalled intercession prayers & priestly offerings ascending to God’s heart. Through this baby Jesus, these strangers had audience with the God of love. Jesus gave of himself for, and to, others. He would embrace the outcasts and call them servants and friends. He will plead and die for their forgiveness. The stench of our sins was replaced with his fragrant offering on the cross. Epiphany gifts give all people life, gift-wrapped in his perfect death.
Myhhr? Would a little boy jump for joy after unwrapping a blackened, bitter gum? This gift was a sign of things to come for this child: a burial for a man who was to die in his 30s. The baby once wrapped in clothes would be embalmed in a tomb for all the nations of the world: “the atoning sacrifice not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). A seemingly out-of-place gift for a baby was a fitting gift for the one who gave his life for them.
See the out-of-place as reminders of the eternal belonging truth. The sense of belonging is given to you in Christ. It is because of him that you do not belong here, but in another Home, a lasting one. When you get to feeling lonesome - misfitted - set your eyes beyond the cradle, beyond Golgotha, beyond an empty tomb. In Epiphany we unwrap all these Christ gifts which lead us say: “I am but a stranger here - Heaven is where I truly belong - Heaven is my home!” And fit us for heaven to live with Thee there! Amen.