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01.04.15 Giving out of Gratitude Matthew 2:1-12 Sermon Summary

by on January 5, 2015

You may not like this metaphor, but I think the Magi started out like Washington lobbyists. Before you get too upset, consider the whole story and what happened to them after they met Jesus.

Summary Points

  • The assumptions of the Magi and how Jesus challenged them
  • The choice the Magi had to make, and how we have to make it also
  • The meaning of the treasures the Magi brought
  • The dynamic relationship between our hearts and our treasures
  • A question with the potential to change everything this year

Magi

Note: On this eleventh day of Christmas we used the Epiphany texts from the Revised Common Lectionary. Epiphany ends Christmas on January 6 (thus “the twelve days of Christmas”), and the lectionary favors it as the visit of the Magi from the East (not the only way to commemorate Epiphany).

The visit of the Magi is saturated with sermons. For some mini-sermons I might have preached, look here.

The Magi started out with conventional assumptions. The first is that power is where it appears to be—in their case Jerusalem. Second, treasures impress and influence the powerful. In this way, the Magi were like Washington lobbyists.

When they encounter Jesus, however, their assumptions are challenged. They discover that power isn’t in Jerusalem, but in Bethlehem, a town so negligible it had to be assured by the prophecy from Micah of its relevance. And their encounter with Jesus showed them that God’s kingdom doesn’t’ come through the powerful and influential, but through the poor.

So now the Magi are faced with a choice: shall they follow the powerful Herod in Jerusalem? Or shall they follow Jesus? Matthew tells us that, after encountering Jesus, they avoided Herod and returned home “by another road.” They realized the importance of Jesus being “born King of the Jews:” he is God’s choice for king, not Rome’s.

We have the same choice, and we make it with two treasures, our literal treasures and our hearts.

The Magi bought literal treasures. Their three gifts of myrrh, frankincense, and gold were expensive treasures appropriate for any new king. But they also predict Jesus’ three-fold office of Prophet, Priest, and King. Prophets tell the truth even when it’s painful, even when it leads to their death as it did in Jesus’ case. Myrrh is a substance used for preparing bodies for burial. Jesus would be accompanied his whole life by the myrrh from the Magi, reminding him that truth is of higher value than ease.

Priests led worship, and used frankincense as a symbol of God’s presence and our rising prayers. Jesus would be accompanied his whole life by the frankincense of the Magi, reminding him of his calling as a priest, mediating the presences of God and humans to one another.

Kings used gold to rule over their people. We don’t know what Jesus did with the Magi’s gold, but if he followed the Bible’s descriptions of the godly king, he used it to assist the poor.

The Magi started out from the East with these expensive treasures, but their hearts may have been misaligned. When they encounter Jesus, he realigns their hearts, and redirects their treasures. They recognize God’s choice of a King, someone who would fulfill the description of Psalm 72. Someone who would, “judge the people with righteousness,” which it goes to explain as treating “the poor with  justice,” “defending the cause of the poor of the people,” “delivering the needy and the poor who have no helper,” someone for whom the death of those suffering oppression and violence is “precious in his sight.”

The Magi had a Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol experience: They realized who Jesus is, and they trusted him with their treasure. Here treasure follows a realigned heart.

Later Jesus will teach: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Here heart follows treasure. It is an invitation at the beginning of the year, to dedicate our hearts to Christ by dedicating our treasures to him first.

December is a “catch-up” month with charitable giving. It may be the tax benefits, or Christmas, or both. In my case, I made last minute donations to Kiva, TwoCor, the scholarship funds of my educational institutions, and to my church and denomination. If you analyzed my checkbook at end of year, you might conclude that my heart is in the right place.

But what if you analyzed it before December 31? What if you did an assessment of my heart through a random analysis of my checkbook throughout the year? You might be concerned about the alignment of my heart.

But what if this Christmas realigned my heart? What if, after this Christmas, I was so grateful for the gift of Christ, that I redirected my treasures beginning now, as the Magi did? What if this Christmas realigned my heart, and by regular giving all year long I kept it aligned? Then my December contribution next year would merely be a final one.

Here’s a question for us all. How much closer will our hearts be to God in 2015? Part of the answer to that depends on where and when we open our treasure chests. If the Magi teach us anything, it is that the best answer is early and often, so that the light of Christ will continue to shine, ever brighter, in our own hearts and in the world.

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