Trinity’s Sermon from Sunday

Revealed A sermon on Matthew 2:1-12
Joe Cailles, Trinity UMC
January 6, 2019, Epiphany Sunday
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.
The day after Christmas my family set out on a week-long road trip to visit our family in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. We’ve been making that same journey for years now, and I think my car can practically drive itself from here to each of their homes. I still use my map apps on the ride, because, even though we’ve all made the trip a bazillion times, we all still ask, are we there yet, how much longer till we get there. That never gets old. Questions of how much longer notwithstanding, we travel well together.
The map apps tell me that we traveled 1800 miles in 7 days. Two hotel rooms, three family homes, too much fast food and lots of bathroom breaks. But at the end of each day’s travel was a home and family whom we love so much and the satisfaction of having arrived safely. It’s fitting then that today the church celebrates the road-trip journey of the magi, the wise man, who followed a new star to find not just a new king, but something more, something divine.
By church tradition, today, is called the Epiphany of the Lord Sunday. Epiphany means insight, revelation, and new understanding. One of the first things the magi realize on their road trip, what was revealed to them, is that the new king is not in the capital city of Jerusalem where you’d expect to find a king, but about 10 miles south in the small city of Bethlehem. The new king is not in a palace and does not come for a ruling high-class family. What the magi realized, what God revealed to them is that the new king is in an ordinary house, the son of an ordinary couple, and the magi bring this ordinary family some extraordinary gifts.
The magi track down the new king and in respect and adoration, they kneel and present their three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. And these gifts reveal something to us about who Jesus is and what he means for us. Because as far as gifts for babies go, gold, frankincense and myrrh are pretty worthless gifts. What’s a baby going to do with this stuff anyway? Obviously, these so-called wise men were not United Methodists, who of course would know to show up with diapers and a casserole These three gifts are gifts of an epiphany, the realization that the baby Jesus is no ordinary child. Jesus is the king, and more than that, Jesus is God. We understand gold as an appropriate gift for a king. That makes sense to us. Gold is needed for crowns and ceremonial swords and coins, so kings with gold make sense. But Jesus will be no ordinary king. The value of his kingdom is not in riches and wealth, but in charity, forgiveness and hospitality to the stranger. In fact, years after his birth, Jesus will tell a story of a foolish man who builds bigger and bigger barns to hold all his wealth, only to die the day after. Gold and wealth and stuff aren’t the true valuables in life. Loving those around us, reconciling with our neighbors, helping those in need – these are Christian values and Christian valuables. Love and reconciliation and service, these are what our lives as Christians are all about.
Frankincense, the second gift of the wise men, is a strange gift for a baby, but it’s a good gift to remind us of God. Back in the days of Jesus, frankincense was used in religious ceremonies. As you burned frankincense and its fragrance filled the room, folks were reminded that they were in the presence of God. God filled the space just as the smoke and the fragrance filled the space. As you inhaled the scent, it’s as if you were breathing in God’s presence and taking God inside of you. We don’t burn frankincense here but there is another way in which we unite ourselves to God. We’ll get to that in a moment.
But of all the gifts the wise men gave to Jesus, myrrh has got to be the strangest. One can just imagine the look on Mary’s face on seeing that myrrh was one of the gifts to her young son. Because while myrrh had a lot of uses, chief among them was to use it to cover the scent of dead bodies. And in fact, the Gospel of John says to us that, after Jesus dies on the cross, his body was anointed with myrrh and laid in the tomb.
Gold, frankincense and myrrh, with these three gifts, the wise men show us the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. Those three gifts give us an understanding, a revelation, an epiphany into who Jesus is.
One more thing about gold, frankincense, and myrrh: Each of these three elements is found individually throughout the Bible, which makes sense. The Bible often deals with kings, so there’s plenty mention of gold. Lots of religious ceremonies and anointing of the dead in the Bible, so frankincense and myrrh pop up regularly too.
The three together, gold, frankincense and myrrh, listed as a group appear in only one other place previous to their appearance here in Matthew’s Gospel. The three together are found in just one place in the Bible before the magi.
It’s a passage in Exodus, chapter 30. After God liberated the Jewish people from their slavery in Egypt, but before they settled in their homeland, the Jewish people traveled the wilderness for years and years. During their time in the wilderness, they built a portable Temple they called Tabernacle, and the Jewish people believed that the Tabernacle was the home God, and they believed that God’s presence was found in the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle, called the Holy of Holies. For several chapters in Exodus, there is an elaborate description of the Tabernacle and the Holy of Holies, how big is it, what kinds of fabrics are used, what the altar looks like, how that should be made – a very detailed listing. Among the many materials which make up the Holy of Holies, which make up the Home of God, we would find gold, frankincense and myrrh.
So hundreds of years later, when these wise men come out of the East bearing these three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they announce to the whole world that the Home of God is now found in this child Jesus. The Home of God is now in Jesus Christ.
Some thirty years after Jesus receives his three gifts, Jesus will gather in an upper room and sit around a table with his disciples. Jesus will hold up bread and say, This is me. He’ll hold up a cup and say, This is me. And so here’s another epiphany for us, another realization. The Home of God is in Jesus Christ. Jesus offers himself in the cup and bread, and so when we eat and drink from the Lord’s table, we are taking in the presence of God. Today, God makes a home in us, and that means everything. We can live as God would have us live, for God is here to help. We can love one another as God call us to love for God is here in our souls and in the souls of those we meet.
The wise men bring gifts to Jesus, announcing to the world that Jesus is King and Jesus is God. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus will establish an eternal Kingdom based on charity, forgiveness and justice, and Jesus has given that Kingdom to us as a gift.
Jesus has given us this table as a gift as well. As we eat this bread and drink from this cup, the Holy Spirit of Christ makes a home within us, and we rise from this table a gifted and loved people. Today and everyday we will honor Jesus as our King and as our God, and we will serve him in gratitude for the gift of life and salvation he has given us. Thanks be to God. Amen.