This is the day I promised you last Sunday…Epiphany Sunday…The 12th Day of Christmas…Today is a day for celebration and joy…Of course, Epiphany doesn’t really happen until tomorrow – January 6th…That’s the real 12th – and last – day of Christmas we sing about in that familiar song…“On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 12 drummers drumming…” Today would be, “11 pipers piping”. On the church calendar, Epiphany is the day we celebrate the arrival of the Magi – wise men from the east who dropped everything to follow a star to find the child born King of the Jews. I wonder, though, who were these people who traveled so far to bring precious gifts to a baby destined to reign over a kingdom they knew nothing about? I also wonder, after they offered their gifts, what gift did these people receive?
So, who were these “Magi” Matthew talks about? The Bible tells us very little about them…Matthew tells us only that these mysterious visitors come from “the east”…For early Christians their somewhat vague background provided plenty of room to shape new narratives around the question: “Who were the Magi?” Popular versions in our tradition include Babylonian astrologers or Persian priests…There are other theories as well, but no real evidence of who they really were or where they actually came from…All that seems clear is that they traveled a very long distance and they were not Jewish…There probably were a lot more than three of these guys too…Matthew talks about three gifts, not three men. A journey that long would have included an entourage of people, animals, supplies and tents…There may even have been some wisewomen on the trip. I imagine the reality is much more complicated than the short, simple story Matthew shares. If these folks are from Babylon or Persia, then they are also considered enemies of the Jews…These are people who have been at war with the Jews more than once through history…Remember the Jews spent a long time in exile in Babylon…these are not their favorite people… They are hated by the Jews…So here are these guys, enemies of the Jews, travelling hundreds and hundreds of miles across an impossible desert…Imagine what it might be like to make this long trip with all these people…You need cooks and herders and people to put up the tents at night…This is a big group going to a land where they are hated to give gifts to a king they don’t know anything about…It sounds like a really crazy idea, doesn’t it?
Maybe that’s the point…I think the Bible is filled with stories that sound a little bit crazy in the beginning and end up being just what God had in mind. I think that’s what this story is about – these guys get this crazy idea to follow a star across the desert…When we look at it from our perspective and try to figure out why they did it, it just sounds like a crazy idea…That’s when we stumble across the real point of the story…it’s about God’s motive…God sent these non-Jewish pagans to make a point…The point is this: Jesus wasn’t just a king for the Jews; Jesus was a king for EVERYBODY. Jesus was born to restore God’s relationship with all the people God created, not just the Jews. The real point of this story isn’t that three astrologers noticed a bright new star in the sky and decided to follow it across the desert…The point of the story is that God places “stars” of different types in the path of all kinds of different people in different circumstances and urges us to follow…The question is: Do wesee? Do we notice? Are we willing to drop everything and go out of our way to go wherever the “star” leads us? Would we travel hundreds of miles, inconvenience ourselves, to visit this child? Would we do whatever it takes to pay him homage?
Ah, there’s the point of the story…That word – “homage” – that word gives the story purpose and direction. The Greek word translated as “homage” means the physical posture of prostrating oneself at the feet of a king…The implication is that to pay homage means that we give our entire selves to Christ. In the story they paid homage first and only then did they offer their gifts. The real focus of this story is Jesus…Not the magi, not the gifts, not the vague details. What the magi gave is not important…What’s important is what the magi received…They received INCLUSION in God’s kingdom. Take that a step further and you realize that Christmas has never been about the presents…It’s about the gift we’ve been given by God…It’s about Jesus and being included in the Kingdom of God…Nintendo and Apple can’t compete with that! The gifts the magi brought paled in the Light of Jesus…They couldn’t be enough…The gifts that we bring can never measure up to the gifts we’ve been given…Here we come to the idea for this message…“Re-Gifting” – a social no-no for us…“Well, I got this ugly tie from Sam so I think I’ll give it to Fred next year.” You understand the concept…You get a gift you don’t like or don’t want so you save a little time and money by re-gifting it…Does that make you cheap or clever? I don’t know. It just sounds bad, though, to get a gift you don’t like and give it to somebody else…Sounds like you don’t care about the person enough to get a gift just for them. It does solve the ugly tie problem though.
I suggest we think of re-gifting from a different perspective this morning…This gift we’ve been given at Christmas…This gift the magi received when they gave themselves entirely to Christ…I suggest it is our holyobligation to re-gift it as often as we possibly can. Not because we don’t want it; not because we don’t need it; but, precisely because it is the bestgift we have ever received. Re-gift it because you realize that is what God intended from the beginning.
As we celebrate the 12th and final day of the Christmas season, I believe we come upon the real point of this whole story…All the various Bible stories disagree on the details, but they all agree that Jesus is the focus…The great gift of God to humanity. The focus has never been on the gifts of the magi or on the presents we give each other…The focus has always been on THE GIFT – Jesus; Emmanuel; God with us.
Now think about the end of the story…After all this, the magi decided to go home by another route and defy Herod…They could have taken the easy way and gone back to report to the King, but they didn’t. Instead they went back home and began to share the gift they had received. Herod’s plan to kill the baby was thwarted and for the next 2,000 years this precious gift has been re-gifted over and over again…It’s the reason we can be here today…We still share in this wonderful gift that fills empty spaces, heals wounded hearts, and fixes broken lives…I believe that is why we are all called to re-gift Christmas every chance we get. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.