SERMON: "GIFTS THAT KEEP ON GIVING" SCRIPTURE: MATTHEW 2:1-12 DATE: JANUARY 4, Matthew 2:1-12 (NIV)

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1 1 SERMON: "GIFTS THAT KEEP ON GIVING" SCRIPTURE: MATTHEW 2:1-12 DATE: JANUARY 4, 2015 Matthew 2:1-12 (NIV) After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 In Bethlehem in Judea, they replied, for this is what the prophet has written: 6 But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel. 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him. 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

2 2 A Nursery School teacher was reading the Christmas story to her class one morning. She stopped to make sure they understood. "What do we call the three wise men?" she asked. "The three maggots," replied one bright four year old. "What gifts did the Magi bring to the baby Jesus?" she corrected. "Gold, Frankenstein and smurfs," said the same four year old. When it comes to the three wise men or three kings or magi there seems to be a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. First off we don t know how many of them there really were. The Bible account doesn t tell us. The number three is assumed because there were three gifts. It's an assumption, not a fact. There is also confusion around what position or title these men held. We have a beloved carol that calls them Kings but as Magi they would not have held a royal title. They weren t Kings but they were advisors to Kings. Magi were a combination of astrologer, medicine man and Prime Minister all rolled into one. In reality, they were almost as powerful as a King because a King would have depended very much upon them for advice. A third misunderstanding has to do with the arrival time of the Magi. Our manger scenes usually have the Magi at the stable with the shepherds and the donkey. Many scholars now believe that the Magi arrived much later. It took time to follow the Bethlehem Star from the great distances they had to travel. Also Matthew, himself, states in verse 11 that the Magi found the child in a house, not a stable.

3 3 Finally, if the arrival of the Magi was a year or two after the birth it would explain Herod's murder of all baby boys under two years of age. All of these things make the story of the Magi an interesting study. But there is one more thing that we want to especially concern ourselves with this morning. It has to do with the idea of gift giving. One of the rationales for giving and receiving gifts at Christmas time is the fact that the Magi brought gifts to the Christ child. The world had just received the greatest gift possible from God---Jesus Christ. The Magi responded to that gift by offering gifts of their own to Jesus. Better gifts than Frankenstein and smurfs. And so, the giving and receiving of these gifts is one of the reasons we give and receive gifts at this special time of year. But look carefully at the story. Who gives the gifts? And who receives them? The Magi offered their gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child. Nothing was given to Joseph and Mary. The Magi had received a gift from God and they gave a gift back to God. There was no exchange between all the people who gathered around Jesus---just between God and the Magi. Nowadays Christmas means giving presents to people. It means searching and spending to buy gifts for relatives, friends, neighbors, people at work etc.

4 4 With all the giving going on too often the idea of giving something to God is lost. But isn't that what the Magi did? The idea of offering presents to those we love at Christmas is a wonderful one. That isn t really the problem. Where we have adapted the story of the Magi poorly is, not in adding to the gifts, but in leaving out our gifts to God. As Christians we recognize the corporate nature of faith. We are not meant to live our lives as Christians in isolation from others. Yet the bottom line of being a Christian is that it is an individual and personal decision we must make for ourselves. In that sense Christmas is very much about God's gift of Jesus to you and to me as individuals. Christmas is about God coming to earth and saying: "What are you going to do about my Son?" Christmas, then, is a personal offer to each and every one of us. The story of the Magi reminds us of our need to give to God. God gives to us personally. God calls us to respond to God s gift personally. Not just by exchanging presents with those we love but by offering gifts to God. But what can we give to God? What can we offer in return for the gift of Jesus and eternal life? Gold and frankincense and myrrh seem rather out dated.

5 5 As we enter into the New Year may I offer us all three suggestions---three things I know our Lord would be pleased to receive. First, we can give God our lives. When a person becomes a Christian they do so by committing themselves to an ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ. Christians give their lives to their Lord. We give ourselves as completely as we can and then we seek to grow in our relationship with Christ. As Samuel Shoemaker once said: "We give as much of ourselves as we can to as much of God as we can understand." That begins the constant process of growth in Christ. But once we have made that commitment there is nothing wrong in examining it and examining ourselves and our priorities occasionally. Times of recommitment can be very special and meaningful. Just as some couples arrange to exchange wedding vows again after 20 or 25 years of marriage, so we too should be willing to take stock and recommit ourselves to God and our relationship with God. The New Year is a good time to say: "Lord, thank you for the past 12 months. Help me to stay focused on you during the next 12 months." Committing yourself to God, if you haven't already, or recommitting yourself to God is a wonderful gift to offer. It s a gift that you will never regret.

6 6 The second thing we can give to God, in response to God s Christmas gift to us, is our openness to learn. As we enter 2015 I'm thinking particularly of an openness to learn from our rough times in the past---times when we have struggled because of our own mistakes or simply difficult circumstances. We truly waste our struggles if we don t learn from them. Charles Swindoll wrote that life is brief, terribly brief. It can be summed up by a hyphen---a little dash. For instance Mozart's life can be shown as Dash---that's it! It's been said that: "Four things come not back: the spoken word, the sped arrow, time past and the neglected opportunity. Life is short! Let's not neglect any opportunities to learn from past experiences. Let's be open in 2015 to learning from life---from its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows. Let's be open to learn as we seek to see God in the midst of everything we do and everything we dream. Our learning will be much more constructive if we are open and remember to include God in the equation. The third thing we can give to God is our willingness to act. Christianity is meant to be lived and experienced not just thought about and prayed over.

7 7 Faith requires action to make it whole. God wants God s people to engage in life with enthusiasm. If we are willing to take the chance and embark on an adventure, God will show us what God wants us to do. It's hard to tell if God s directions will require great changes in our lives. They may or they may not---that's the chance---that's the adventure. But whatever it is God wants us to do it will be worthwhile, and ultimately, it will be the best thing we could have possibly done. We can give God our willingness to do what God wants us to do. That's a tremendous gift and God will not waste it. A man named Samuel Le Grice was a brilliant youth who never fulfilled his promise. It was said that Le Grice had three stages to his career. There was a time when people said: "He will do something." There was a time when people said: "He could do something, if he would." There was a time when people said: "He might have done something, if he had liked." Christmas is over. The presents are all unwrapped and tried out. Some of the new toys still work. It's easy to think that the time of giving and receiving is over again for another year. But it doesn't have to be like that. God continues to give us more than we can imagine. What will we offer in return? (1439) The Rev. Dennis Cook, St. Timothy s Presbyterian Church, Ajax, ON, Canada

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