Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption by Deacon Jerry Franzen
Isaiah 60:1-6 ^ Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6 ^ Matthew 2:1-12
Praised Be Jesus Christ. Good Afternoon (Morning).
Let’s begin by being sure that we know pertinent information
about the characters that are in today’s Gospel.
Jesus is mentioned first.
We all know Him, but we all need to learn more about Him.
That is always the point of our proclaiming the Gospel.
King Herod was the ruler of the Jewish people
when Jesus was born.
He was king only because the Romans allowed him to be
their “puppet” to keep the Jewish people in line.
He was pathologically suspicious and fearful of losing his control.
He even killed his wife and three sons,
because he thought that they were plotting against him.
Even his closest collaborators hated him.
He wanted the magi to find this new King
so that he, Herod, could have him, the new King killed,
and, when that didn’t work
he eventually had all Jewish male newborns killed
in the hope that this would include the new King, Jesus.
And what about the magi?
We really don’t know how many there were.
The only place they appear in scripture is here
in St. Matthew’s Gospel, and it just says “magi.”
The popular notion that there were three
seems to come from the mention of three gifts, G F M.
Check the Epiphany window on the south side of the nave;
See if you can identify which of the figures are the magi.
They came from the “east,”
probably the region which is now Iran and Iraq.
They were not Jews; therefore they were Gentiles.
They were like the earliest of what we might term “scientists.”
They studied nature, especially the heavens.
They gathered facts,
knew of the prophecies about the new King of the Jews
and put it all together to come to the conclusion
that the star was the indicator
that the new King, the Messiah, had been born.
It seems that they were valued advisors for kings,
probably scholars, more like “wise men” than actual kings.
Today we celebrate the arrival of the Magi to the Holy Family.
But why is this event so important? FIRST They brought gifts.
Gift-giving is at the heart of Christmas.
We enjoy receiving items given to us by others
as an expression of their friendship and love for us, AND
we enjoy presenting gifts to others
as our expression of our love and friendship for them.
Christmas gifts should be firm reminders
of God’s Christmas gift of His Son to us.
At least that is the way it should be.
The gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were intended
to be gifts that would help to celebrate the arrival
of this new King of the Jews.
However, many times what we do is not gift-giving
in the strictest sense of that term.
We often are involved in an exchange of presents.
We gather and bring presents for many of the others present
and generally expect presents from many who are gathered.
It might also be that we bring one present for one person
whose name we have drawn,
and expect a gift from one person in the group.
The exchange of Christmas cards often follows this same format.
If they sent me a card last year,
I should send them one this year.
Or if they sent me one this year and I didn’t,
maybe I can dash one off at the last minute.
Oh, I am not against the Secret Santa exchanges,
the gathering around the tree on Christmas morning
to exchange presents or the sending of Christmas cards.
They all are very warm ways of expressing our love for others.
But they may not represent the true giving of gifts.
I would think that with King Herod,
it would be: “Give me your loyalty, and I will let you live.”
I have a present for you, if you have one for me.
The truest form of gift-giving is done with no strings attached.
It goes on all the time, especially with the giving trees
that are routinely stripped bare for Christmas time.
I wanted to make this distinction between the exchange of presents
and true gift-giving,
because it is gift-giving in its truest sense
that exemplifies what Christmas is all about.
And the feast of the Epiphany reminds us of that.
In this whole Christmas Season, we celebrate God’s gift to us,
the gift of his Son, a gift freely given out of the fullness of love,
the gift of our salvation with no strings attached.
This gift comes with no expectation of our giving a gift back to God.
How could we give a gift
that could match the gift that God gave us in Jesus?
I doubt that the magi had expected a “tit for tat” exchange
with the Messiah.
If they had expected some favor in return from the King of the Jews,
they would have turned right around
and taken their gifts with them,
when they saw the conditions
under which this new King was born.
I wonder whether the magi realized the irony of the situation:
their gifts were nowhere near a match
for the gift of his Son that God had given them and us.
So where are we in this story? We don’t want to be Herod.
We must be the magi.
Our lives are journeys; we must discern which stars to follow.
In addition to His Son, God has given each of us gifts.
They may be gifts that represent wealth,
as did gold, frankincense and myrrh.
They may be gifts that are our talents, our qualities:
The knowledge that teachers impart to students,
The wisdom with which parents shape
the character of their children,
The enthusiasm that youth bring to events,
The creativity of musicians, decorators and architects,
The organizational skills of managers and coaches,
The innocence and openness of children,
The dedication that prompts volunteers.
Our part is to use these gifts.
We give them to others, and in doing so,
we give them back to God through others.
It is not a “tit for tat” situation,
but gifts that are freely given by God,
and gifts that are freely given to others by us.
God has given us his Son out his love for us,
not because he expects us to reciprocate with gifts for Him.
God continues to give us the gift of His Son,
even when we fail to follow His call to use those gifts for others.
While no gift we can give can match God’s gift of his Son,
very gift we bring to others,
no matter how small we may think it is,
is held preciously by God.
Every gift we give to others becomes our expression of God’s love
for them through us .
Just as God has given us his Son, we bring Christ to others,
when we freely share our gifts with them.
That is what it means to be a Christian. That is what the Magi did.
I would expect that, when they went back to their homelands,
they shared the news of the new-born King
with the non-Jewish world, the Gentiles.
In a sense, they, and the shepherds, were the first Christians.
This feast of the Epiphany then serves
a SECOND very important purpose:
not just as a reminder of the true spirit of Christmas:
but also that God sent the gift of His Son
for the salvation of all,
Jews and Gentile alike, for everyone.
God has given each of us this beautiful gift of His Son,
AND now today on our part,
we express our love for God in our freely
giving of that same gift, Christ, to others.
Guerric of Igny, a twelfth-century French abbot
said in his sermon on the Nativity:
“The child Jesus was born not only FOR us,
but also to be IN us.
We have to conceive God in our hearts.”
One way we do that is by sharing the gifts that He has given to us.