What a great story we have in this gospel lesson of the visit of the three magi or wise men. The writer of the gospel of Matthew really provides us with drama...Herod’s anxiety and paranoia is palpable...why is he so afraid of a baby? I can picture Mary still in the barn, holding the infant Jesus, perhaps nursing him or singing him a lullaby. And then these men, dressed in fine robes with treasure chests arrive. While the Bible doesn’t say that there were three of them, we make the assumption that there were based on the number of gifts presented. This assumption became legend through hymns such as “We three kings” and countless nativity paintings, and the eventual naming of the men--Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. The gifts they offer are pretty legendary too--gold, frankincense and myrrh. I remember once being told that these gifts were a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death; the gold was for the cost of a tomb and the frankincense and myrrh were to be used as perfumes and ointments for his body.
And then there’s the wonderful children’s story that isn’t anywhere in the Bible--the story of the little drummer boy. Composed in 1941 by Katherine Kennicott Davis and turned into a Christmas special in 1968 by Rankin and Bass (the same guys who made the Rudolph movie), it’s the story of a poor boy name Aaron who is angry at the world, and yet is called by the three wise men to accompany them on their journey to Bethlehem. When he arrives at the scene, he has nothing to offer but a song on his drum. And this song causes Jesus to laugh and Mary nods her head along in rhythm. The claymation Christmas special by Rankin and Bass ended with this quote:
Aaron's heart was filled with joy and love. And he knew at last that the hate he had carried there was wrong. As ALL hatred will ever be wrong. For more powerful, more beautiful by far than all the eons of sadness and cruelty and desolation which had come before, was that one tiny, crystalline second of laughter. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
I share this story with you not to take away from the powerful and vibrant gospel message that Matthew provides, but because more often than not, while I’d love to be able to give Jesus special treasures like gold, frankincense and myrrh, the truth is I often I feel like I have nothing to give. I’m just boring old me with nothing special or unique to offer Jesus. And yet, in the story of Aaron, the little drummer boy, we learn that we--all that we are--is good enough. We learn that in offering ourselves, we are given back more love and grace than we could ever imagine.
So I thought this Sunday we’d have a little participation...a little activity if you will.
You have all been given a piece of paper and there are pens and pencils floating around.
On your piece of paper, I’d like you to write down what gift you bring before Jesus. A few years ago when we did this at the Epiphany evening service, words like “truthfulness, peace and love” were offered. Those are all great examples. But don’t let that limit you. Maybe you bring music, poetry, or laughter. Maybe you bring service, humility, or care. Whatever it is that you have to offer will be perfect. And it doesn’t have to be one word, it can be a phrase...that’s ok too. There are no wrong answers.
When you’re done writing down your gift, please pass your paper to the person closest to the center aisle...we’ll collect your gifts in a basket and present them to Jesus.
(Wait...when the gifts have been collected and brought forth, end with this prayer:)
Blessed Savior, in love you came to us as a child: Enlighten our hearts, that we may more deeply understand the richness of this gift and practice more faithfully your call to give of ourselves in love. Amen.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.