1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, magi from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Please pray with me this morning, church:
Your glory breaks into our weary world
And fills the places in our hearts
That feel distant from you.
Help us to share the gift that we’ve been given,
The immeasurable gift of your care, your love
And your grace in our world.
I’m not really a very spectacular gift giver.
I tend to be more utilitarian in the types of gifts I give. When considering which gifts to buy, I tend to ask myself the question “What does this person need?” rather than “What would this person want?” And even then, I’ve found that I’m usually a pretty poor judge of what my friend needs. And I imagine I’d be an even worse judge of what my friend wants.
So all in all, I’d say I’m not a very good gift giver.
I feel a lot like the magi in our gospel this morning. Seriously, what use does a toddler have for gold, incense, and a burial spice?
But, as you’ve heard me say before, the gifts in this story are less about their utility and more about what the gifts represent. Gold indicated riches fit for a king. Frankincense was an incense representing wisdom. And myrrh was a spice representing long life and healing, but it was also a burial spice, some say as a way of foreshadowing just how Jesus was to rule in his kingdom…by dying himself, and calling us to a sacrificial way of living, to die to our selves also.
Not necessarily gifts a child wants, but maybe the gifts this child needs.
One of my favorite Epiphany traditions that we’ve kept here at New Hope for a few years now is the house blessing of our spiritual home and the chalking above the doors of our Sanctuary. It’s a reminder for me every time I walk through those doors that this place is surrounded by blessing. We prayed for our church, and with our voices, we collectively asked for God’s blessing on this house.
But what a strange year it’s been since we did that… Less than 3 months after we prayed for God’s blessing and marked the occasion in chalk last year, we were forced from our spiritual house by an invisible virus whose most effective course of treatment is to maintain distance and keep physically separate from one another, rather than be drawn together, which is so much of many of our own experiences with church. It’s particularly insidious that the absolute best way to beat COVID-19 is to keep physically apart from one another, especially when so much of our identity and who we are as a people of faith is as a people of connection…and when so much of that connection is fostered through physical interaction.
I’ve been lamenting this pretty much throughout this pandemic, but most especially throughout the month of December, and even more so as we got closer to Christmas. Christmas is such a special time in the life of the church, similar to Easter or really any of the feast days, but then we got to Christmas Eve… We got to Christmas Eve, and after the staff spending all month trying to figure out how to approximate some version of “being” together…we got to Christmas Eve and we had these 3 opportunities to gather together virtually. And we saw each others’ faces, and we greeted each other, and we shared some laughs, and we prayed together, and we sang together, and we lit candles together, and we wished each other Merry Christmas and best wishes for a new year…and I was powerfully reminded that even though it’s not very safe for us to be all together under the same roof right now…church has never been canceled…
The building might be closed right now…but the church is still very much alive…
We may not be able to gather at this house right now…but our spiritual home has never been shut down…
I’m reminded of the invitation we extend to y’all every year—to grab a piece of chalk and a copy of the traditional Epiphany house blessing and to bless your own homes each year. To pray for God’s blessing as a family and mark the occasion over the door. If you did that in 2020, I wonder if you felt a deeper connection between the building here at 1424 FM 1092 and the Sanctuary of your address. In such a time as this, aren’t our homes in fact an extension of our church building? With faith formation and worship and serving your neighbors happening primarily in your homes right now, isn’t it simply that the church has been scattered and deployed?
Which, turns out, is even more true in this age of streaming worship. Church, do you know that we have folks joining us from all over the US? Michigan, Illinois, New Jersey, Washington, Nebraska…even former members are able to re-connect, even from what I’ve started calling New Hope West, out in the Hill Country of Texas… The church is scattered and deployed.
And quite honestly, I think that’s where we do some of our best work anyway…sent out, deployed into the world…to do the work God calls you to…in, with, and among the world God so loves.
Arise! Shine! Your light has come!
Go, therefore, and be that light. Be the healing brightness in a weighed-down and weary world.
As I’ve called folks and checked in with you and talked with you over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the thought that although I don’t consider myself a very good gift-giver…I do have presence to offer…p-r-e-s-e-n—c—e… The gift I’m really good at giving is…my self…my time, my energy, my attention. Even mediated through the phone or a text or an email or a Zoom call, there’s still a deep connection.
I wonder what connections you might foster this new year. I wonder if you would re-up your commitment to check in with your friends and neighbors and family. We still need connection, church…deeply. Even after we get through the worst parts of this pandemic, that will still be true. We’re created for connection and we can use the tools we have at our disposal to foster that connection in profoundly meaningful ways.
Your presence can be a blessing.
Your presence is a blessing.
And you don’t have to be physically present to be a presence of blessing.
Happy New Year, church.