THE EXTRAVAGANT MAGI!
December 31, 2017
Let’s take a moment this morning to share about the most unusual or special gift we received this Christmas……
- THE GIFTS OF THE WISE MEN
I have always hated how our culture brings Christmas to an abrupt, screeching halt on December 26. We strip off the ornaments, haul the tree and tattered wrapping paper to the dump, and pour the eggnog down the kitchen sink, and sing “Turn Out the Lights, the Party’s Over.”
Well, in the Christian tradition, we believe the Christmas season continues on a while, 12 days to be exact to the day of Epiphany, which is observed on January 6. Epiphany means “dawning of light.” Today we celebrate the manifestation of God’s light revealed to the Magi of the East through a bright and glimmering star.
Charlie Brown and Lucy are sitting on the ground looking up at a night sky overflowing with stars. He tells Lucy he believes there is one tiny star in the midst of these millions of stars he can call his own. Charlie Brown asks Lucy, “Does that make any sense to you?” Lucy replies, “Certainly, Charlie Brown. It means you’re cracking up!”
Well, I’m sure the wise men suffered much verbal abuse and ridicule also when they announced their plans to follow a bright star in the eastern sky to wherever it would lead them. And yet, they refused to be deterred.
These men, from ancient Persia and what is today modern Iraq, were trained in the natural sciences of astronomy and philosophy. They believed such an extraordinary phenomenon in the heavens heralded the birth of a great king–a messiah perhaps.
Earliest tradition held that there were twelve of them. Later that number was reduced to three, and they were given names–Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. And despite the diabolical overtures from King Herod, they persevered in finding the home of the Christ child.
They came not just out of curiosity, but out of adoration. And they laid at Jesus’ feet gifts fit for the greatest of kings–gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Gold was a gift for nobility. It was the most precious of metals. They brought this gift for one who would be called the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Frankincense was a gift for a priest. It was used in the worship and sacrifices of the Temple. Its sweet aroma signified the presence of God. The function of the priest was to open the way to God for humanity, to build a bridge to the divine. Jesus came as the great High Priest to accomplish this very thing.
Myrrh was the most bizarre of the gifts offered to the Christ child. It was a gift for one who was to die. It was used in preparations for burial. Jesus came into the world to live for us and to die for us. His death would save us from our sins, that we might be forgiven and restored to God.
Gold for a king, frankincense for a priest, myrrh for one who was to die–These were the gifts the wise men brought to the Christ child in great adoration. And these gifts foretold the identity of Jesus, who would be our King of Kings, our perfect High Priest, the Supreme Savior of the world.
- WHAT GIFT WILL WE BRING TO CHRIST IN 2018?
Tomorrow we will cross over the threshold into the new year of 2018. You will probably make certain resolutions–hopefully you’ll manage to keep them.
In the comic strip “For Better or For Worse,” the family is sitting at the breakfast table on New Year’s Day. The father says, “I think we ought to make some resolutions for the upcoming year.” Mom says, “Okay, I resolve not to be critical, to nag less and to bake more often.” Family says, “Great, Mom!”
Father says, “I resolve not to lose my temper or my golf balls, and to fix all the things in the house that need repairing.” Family responds, “Alright, Dad!”
Elizabeth says, “I resolve to brush my teeth and my dog Farley regularly, to keep my room clean, and to not fight with my brother Michael.” Family responds, “You go, girl!”
Michael says, “I resolve to skateboard daily, to hang out with my friends, to play more Grand Theft Auto and to listen to my I-Tunes at least one hour a day.” Family responds, “Wait a minute!! We all made real promises! Your resolutions are worthless!”
Michael says, “I know, but at least my resolutions will be kept!”
I would like to propose to you that we, like the Wise Men, resolve to offer certain gifts to Christ in the year ahead, and to also keep them:
- The Gift of our Aptitude
In Ephesians 4, Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12, Paul describes various gifts of the Spirit–various skills and abilities God bestows upon his people for the upbuilding of the Church and the spreading of the Good News to the world. Aptitude has to do with possessing insight and intuition into how best to employ these spiritual gifts.
The Washington Redskins continue to break our hearts season-in, season-out. We’ve gone through another longsuffering season.
And yet, that wasn’t always the case. The Skins have had so many great players over the years. At the top of my list was a tiny cornerback named Darrell Green. God blessed Darrel with great athleticism–his lightning fast speed made him one of the greatest cornerbacks to play the game.
And yet, this very humble man saw his football skills as only a means to a much greater end. He utilized his fame as a Redskins football player to establish a youth ministry—the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation– a Christian organization that helps introduce inner city kids to Christ, to educational opportunities, and helps to mold them into productive citizens.
Darrell Green has single-handedly made a tremendous impact on the lives of thousands of kids in the Washington, DC metro area. God gave him a vision of how to use his athletic skills to make a difference for the kingdom of God.
Each of us has the gift of aptitude to offer Christ. We, too, can devise means in which we can best utilize our God-given abilities to make an impact upon our community and world.
- The Gift of Availability
Along with the gift of aptitude, I pray we would also resolve to offer Christ the gift of availability. That is, to serve him by giving to others our time, our presence, our listening ear. Jesus always made time for persons from all walks of life–he even chastised his disciples when they tried to turn little children away. “Let the children come unto me, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.”
We live in such a hectic, highly-impersonal world, where Facebook and Twitter and text messages and emails and digital this-and-that have cut out face-to-face conversation between individuals. As a result, so many of us live in virtual isolation. And we are lonely.
Remember a couple of years ago when legislation was passed to get rid of telemarketing? We all seem to hate those obtrusive phone calls right in the middle of suppertime, do we not? Well, swimming against the tide was one elderly woman who told an NBC Nightly News reporter she thoroughly enjoyed getting those calls. She said it was the only human voice she ever got to hear most days. That’s so sad.
Each and every day we have the opportunity to offer the gift of availability to someone–be it a family member, a neighbor, a co-worker, a stranger. We can make the time to visit, to listen, to be a friend.
- The Gift of Attitude
The Apostle Paul wrote these words from a prison cell:
“I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have more than enough, so that anywhere, at anytime, I am content, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have too much or too little. I can do all things, all things, through Christ who strengthens me!”
The late, popular motivational speaker and author Zig Ziglar grew up in Yazoo, Mississippi. Most of us might consider that a disadvantage. Not Zig Ziglar. He said it was a tremendous asset. He said you can go anywhere in the world from Yazoo, Mississippi.
Yes, it’s not where you hail from–be it a prison cell or the boondocks of Mississippi. It’s not how gifted you are or who you know. No, what often makes the biggest difference between success and failure in life is one’s attitude, that particular outlook on life we each carry around inside of us.
There are many of us who choose to go through life viewing that proverbial glass as half-empty. This dour outlook poisons our relationships, our church, our community. Most of all, it affects our witness for Christ we present to others, for we are the only Bible most people will ever read.
As we enter into this year of 2018, a year filled with cynicism, despair, gloom and doom for everything from the economy to politics to world tensions, let us take a much higher road. “Because Christ lives, we can face tomorrow, Because Christ lives, all fear is gone, Because we know who holds the future; and live is worth the living because He lives!”
One of the greatest gifts we can offer to Christ is the gift of a positive attitude, for we can indeed do all things through him who strengthens us!
Yes, the Wise Men followed a light in the sky to the home of the Christ child. There they discovered a greater light that illuminated their hearts forevermore. They offered their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They returned home not by the old road but by another road, symbolic of persons whose lives had been changed by this encounter with the divine.
One Christmas Robert Schuller’s grandkids informed him they would like a lighted world for Christmas. He purchased and wrapped a globe and presented it to them on Christmas morning. They were quite polite in their thanks, but he could see the disappointment in their eyes.
It finally occurred to him what they had been asking for–a globe with a light in it. Being a doting grandfather, he went out the day after Christmas and found a globe with a light in it at the Discovery Zone store. It’s price was a whopping $89.95! Robert Schuller concluded, “A lighted world sure costs a lot more!”
As people called to bear Christ’s light to our world, we realize it demands a great cost from us. We have a choice–we can live selfishly in our own cocoons, sheltered from the needs and problems of others. Or we can offer gifts–gifts of aptitude, availability and attitude–and make a great and profound difference. We can bring Christ’s light to bear upon the world around us.
A lighted world does cost a lot more–but our Lord has called us to walk in his light. Do you have a gift to bring to Christ in 2018 that will spread his light? You most certainly do! Do you resolve to share it? That is the ultimate question.