Simple Gifts

The wise men of Matthew’s gospel appear to us as mysterious individuals who came from the East to visit Jesus in Bethlehem. In all honesty, they may be one of the most mysterious groups of individuals in all of Scripture.

I say this, because we really do not know that much about them. What we do know of these “wise men” has come from cultural understandings, oral traditions, or artistic renderings of this great story that is shared with us each Epiphany Sunday. Matthew only tells us that they followed a star, which led them to Jerusalem and Bethlehem around the time of Jesus’ birth, and they wanted to worship this child.

Our lack of knowledge about the wise men have created some interesting back stories to their narrative. For some time, we’ve assumed that there were three travelers who journeyed to visit Jesus. That is because it is equal to the number of gifts they brought with them. We have suggested, through research, that they likely began their journey somewhere near Arabia. This is because of the location where some of the gifts that they gave could be found. Some have suggested that these were kings of the orient, but, yet, they treat Jesus as the true king of the world. Based on Matthew’s Greek usage, we believe they might have been either magicians or astrologers. It is most likely they were astrologers, because of their observation of the stars. And, yes, we’ve even added names to them, such as Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior.

No matter who these wise men were, how many there were, what they did, or where they came from, they are important contributors to the early events of Jesus’ life. They were among the earliest visitors to see the long-awaited Messiah in person. Once they arrived to Jesus’ home, their actions towards the child are very important. What they do serves as a model for us as we desire to be people who respond to God’s love and revelation of himself through Jesus.

On this Epiphany Sunday, we celebrate that God’s love is made known to the entire world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the day of celebrating that Christ is made known to all people through the light of his love and truth. This light appeared as a star in the sky for the wise men and it guided them to town of Bethlehem and Jesus. It was a journey that took about two years, but it was well worth the trip to experience the Messiah in person.

For us, the light of Christ is the revelation of God’s love. It is the light that shines into our lives and brings forth hope, peace, joy, and love in way that connects us with God and each other. The light of Christ teaches us what it means to follow the Lord, by instructing us to be people who echo the words of Christ by how we live with each other and the world. The light of Christ is the beacon of hope in times of darkness and it guides us toward a better way of living that is more about God and less about us.

God’s revelation of the Lord’s love and truth, through Jesus, demands a response. For the wise men, it meant leaving their homes and going on that long journey from Arabia to Bethlehem. But, it also meant for them to do something very beautiful and powerful. It was an act that they intended to do from the moment they first saw the star of Christ in the sky. They went to Bethlehem so they could worship Jesus.

The wise men did not make the journey to Bethlehem for any other purpose. They went so they could offer a deeply holy and personal response to God’s truth being made known in the world through Jesus. They recognized that in Jesus is truth, grace, and hope. Nothing, not even Herod’s attempt to use their visit for his own purposes to prevent Jesus from fulfilling his mission, would distract them from worshiping the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Nothing would stop them from worshiping Jesus.

Worship is an act of humility that calls us to give praise, honor, and glory to the one for whom these things are truly deserved. The wise men knew Jesus, even at such an early age, is worthy of their praise and worship, because of who he is as the Son of God and what he would do and continues to do each day. Jesus is the one who breaks down the walls that divide. He is the one who is the personification of love, joy, hope, and peace. He is the one who is the author of truth. He is the one who is the provider of grace and salvation for all. It is for these reasons, and so much more, that the wise men came to worship Jesus.

It was an act of worship that demanded that they gave of themselves to Jesus. That is what worship is all about. Worship is an act of giving of our full self in response to God’s love. This involves every aspect of our lives, physical, emotional, and spiritual. In this instance, the wise men gave of what they had, something physical, to signify their love of God. They opened their treasure chests and gave Jesus three gifts, which were gold, frankincense, and myrh. These were simple gifts given out of love and as an act of worship towards Jesus.

The wise men came and worshiped Christ through their presence and their gifts. It is why we have gathered today. Worshiping God is one of the most important things we do in our faith. It connects us with our Lord and each other, but it also sends us out into the world to be messengers of God’s love. As a community, we worship through our prayers, giving, singing, and retelling of God’s love. What we do on Sunday morning is akin to what the wise men did so many years ago. In response to how God has been made known to us in our hearts, we have come with open hearts to worship the Lord.

Yet, worship is not just something we do on Sunday mornings. It is an everyday way of living. True worship is about a life lived in response to God’s revelation. It is not simply something that happens for an hour on Sunday morning. Worship is about a way of life. The presence of Christ in our lives cries out for us to live in a certain way that connects us with the hope, peace, joy, and love of Christ. Worship can take place every moment of our lives, because every moment is an opportunity to praise the One who came to save and share joy in the world.

The wise men give us a guide on how we can do this. We worship the Lord by “giving of ourselves” to the Lord. As the wise men worshiped Jesus, they offered what they had as an act of worship.  This is what it means for us to live daily in worship. It is about making a commitment that everything we do, everything we say, and everything we seek to be is done in response to God’s love and the Lord’s desires for us. The free gift of God’s love calls us to be people who desire nothing more than to praise God by how we live.

It may seem difficult to live in daily worship, but I promise you it is not. We can be people who give of ourselves in response to God’s love. One way we can do this is by welcoming others into our lives and communities in the same ways God has welcomed us. In a culture that is often separated along political lines, socio-economic divisions, or cultural traditions, a people who seek to worship the Lord daily by how we live can be powerful and transformative change agents by welcoming others without expectations, limitations, judgments, or restrictions. It is a welcome that is like how Christ welcomed us. We were welcomed, faults and all, by God and redeemed by his grace. We live in daily worship by giving of ourselves in the ways we welcome others freely and make them a part of our communities and fellowships.

We also worship as the wise men did through giving of ourselves in acts of love. This might be the greatest gift we can offer the world in response to Christ’s love. We live in a world that is often defined by anger, resentments, and frustrations. What if we decided to go out and show a better way. To share the same love with others that Christ offered us, by seeing the worth and importance of others. To love as God loves means we must remember that every person, no matter who they are, is a child of God and created in God’s image. This remembrance calls us to treat each other with kindness, peace, joy, hope, and sincerity.

As well, we give through daily acts of worship by how we share hope in the world. Hope is a word so often used, but seldom authentically shared. That is because when things become difficult it is easy to simply give up and call it a day. Giving hope means we go into the world with the confidence of knowing God is with us and never leaves us alone. Worshiping daily in hope means we share words of encouragement with those who are struggling or frustrated. Worshiping daily in hope also means we are willing to go out, in acts of grace, and share Christ’s hope through acts of kindness in ministries to the sick, poor, brokenhearted, abused, and hurting in our community.

Every day is an opportunity to worship to God. We are sent out from these communal times of worship to continue the worship in our communities by how we live and love in the world. Lives lived in worship truly changes how we interact with each other and can change the world in powerful ways.

Today is not just Epiphany Sunday, but it is also the first Sunday of a new year. This is a new day and a chance to commit ourselves to how we will share Christ’s love in our communities in 2014. What if we made the decision, today, to make every day a day to worship God in response to God revealing himself to us? What if we said that everyday we at Trinity would worship God by how we welcome others in Latonia, Covington, and Northern Kentucky, to walk with us in our common journey of faith in Christ? What if we said that everyday was an opportunity to worship God by how we share love with each other and the people around us? What if we worshiped God every day by sharing a hope that is always present?

I believe if this is what defines us, not just in 2014 but always, then something amazing will happen. Lives will be changed. Stories of redemption will be shared. Hope will be made real in our lives and the lives of others.

So, what are we waiting for? Let us be like the wise men and live each day in worship to the Lord. Let us give to God through daily acts of worship that respond to God’s love. And, let us worship in our community by being people who welcome others, love fully, and hope always.

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