SCRIPTURE: Matthew 2:1-12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 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.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: “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.” ’
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 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.’ 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. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 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. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
MESSAGE: Gifts from the east
after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 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.
Do you know what would have happened
If there had been 3 wise women instead of 3 wise guys?
They would have asked for directions sooner
Gotten to Bethlehem on time
Helped to deliver the baby
Cleaned the stable
brought a casserole & useful gifts
And … there would be peace on earth
The wise ones offered the Christ child gold
Whether the gold was in the form of coins, jewelry or household idols, we do not know
We do know, as did they, that Gold is a universal symbol of wealth
They also offered frankincense, a perfumed incense used in religious rituals
And Myrrh, a precious spice
It is a fragrant substance that was used for the anointing and embalming of the dead
Obviously, these are not your normal baby shower gifts
But in the act of offering these gifts there was a compassionate prayer for the little prince of peace
A prayer that should be offered for every child in this world if we are to ever know peace and good will on earth
The wise ones offered
Gold: a prayer that the child might have adequate resources for living
Frankincense: a prayer that this child might have the Spiritual strength for the fulfilling of God’s purpose in his life
Myrrh: a Burial spice, a prayer that in the hour of his dying he might be remembered with dignity
Shouldn’t this be a universal prayer?
A prayer that we should offer for every child on this earth, and their families
A prayer that might be offered by people of peace and good will, regardless of their religion
That all children grow up with adequate resources, spiritual strength to fulfill their purpose and be remembered with dignity
It is important for us to take note that these wise guys were not Jews
And there is no suggestion or evidence that they became converts to Judaism
Or even worshippers of Jesus
They were in fact astronomers or astrologers
They studied the stars
And they were looking for royalty, not divinity
What they found was not at all what they expected
They did not go to the religious leaders for advice and directions
They went to the earthly ruler of the area
They went to Herod
They thought they were looking for an earthly King
But they did not get stuck in any disappointment that things were not as they had expected
And in their encounter with Herod they provided the 4th and most important gift in the process
What was the 4th gift the Magi brought?
It was the gift of Justice
They did not go home by way of Herod
They failed to obey Herod’s request
In fact they refused to follow Herod’s command
They went home by another way
They were not complicit with evil
The integrity of our faith and all religions is manifested in this 4th gift
The measure of compassion
The ability to not be complicit with oppression and bigotry
All the major religions that I have studied… especially the 3 sisters
Judaism/Christianity/Islam teach and require that we must have compassion and care for the most vulnerable of society
We hold this most basic and important tenet in common with all religions
We must strive for peace and mutual respect among religious traditions
These are the things that will lead us to peace
If we are to address the problems of violence, poverty, bigotry, opioid addiction, teen pregnancy and more
There must 1st be a respect for the gifts we all offer
Peace and good will draw us together
And beyond dogma and doctrine
Let us praise the actions of groups like the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, who seek to promote greater understanding between the Jewish and Muslim communities.
Rev David Benke, a MS Lutheran minster, who was reprimanded for participating in an interfaith prayer service at Yankee stadium following the horrific events of September 11, 2001— but refused to apologize
Muslims are being targeted and killed throughout the world
there are refugees fleeing from Syria and Myanmar and more
There are 22.5 million refugees in the world—half of whom are under the age of 18.
In our country over the years we have wrongly and unjustly vilified entire groups of people— Jews, Irish, Chinese, Japanese and today it is Muslims.
Only together will we be able to counter the abuses in the name of religion
As well as be able to address the problems of our communities and our world
In this story of the 3 wise ones we are reminded that we have always lived in a global village
Yet it is even more true today
The Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr reminded us that we must learn to live together as brothers (and sisters) or perish as fools.
The time has most certainly come for us to risk to work with other people of good will so we can accomplish much
We cannot do it alone
I am not suggesting that we should not have our own convictions
I am suggesting that our convictions should be held up to the light of love and compassion at all times
And good will
Do our convictions promote love, compassion and good will?
Can the spirit of God be seen in us?
These are the things that will change the world
Not dogma or doctrine
The divine spirit of God, Hope
It blows where it will, shines where God chooses
It is present wherever there is peace and good will
It has been present in the Dalai Lama, Ghandi, Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Theresa, Bishop Desmond Tutu… and more
Those who share a respect for the dignity of all human beings beyond their religious identities
We must never forget, we must learn again, that others can bear gifts that glorify God
That in the past they have come from the east
From other faiths
The true measure of any faith group should and cannot be the evil and hateful radicals of that group
We would not wish to have Christians measured by white supremeness or those who bomb abortion clinics
I pray we can find our way to peace
That we can learn to work together
That we can honor our distinctions without allowing them to get in the way of our being a Human Community
I have to admit that is more of a struggle today…
But as Christians we celebrate a story of struggle,
the time when a young girl sang of a God who scattered the braggarts, brought down the powerful, and lifted up the lowly.
The struggle of Joseph, a man with relatively more power who said to the young woman, “I believe you.”
The struggle of birth in the dingy rejects of a place, of a child born to feed the world and placed in a manger.
The struggle of that poor, powerless family becoming refugees, fleeing to Egypt for their lives when the government sought to kill them and their neighbors.
The struggle of the child who grew up to proclaim good news to the poor and release to those imprisoned.
The struggle of a world to welcome that child and his revolutionary ideals.
And let us not forget the scene at the nativity
of angels and shepherds
Of strangers from the east
Of a poor Jewish peasant family
Of a child
A scene of peace and mutual respect
Let us remember
Those who work for Justice
For human dignity
They are all children of God
Regardless of how they call on God
Be it Allah, Jehovah, Adonai, Jesus or ?
Let us honor gifts of peace and good will offered by wise men and women from the east, west, north and south. Amen
A sermon by The Rev. Nathan Baxter (Chautauqua on July 1, 2002) who was, at the time, dean of the Episcopal National Cathedral in Washington DC