Matthew 2:1-12 (Common English Bible)
Coming of the magi
2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”
3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
6 You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
because from you will come one who governs,
who will shepherd my people Israel.”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.
Thoughts on the passage:
We have all probably seen or heard some joke made about the gifts the wise men brought for Jesus. One web comic I saw contrasted it with the gifts of the wise women which included diapers, clean clothes and casseroles for future meals. For us in the 21st century it can be hard to see the value of some of the gifts the wise men brought. The gold we can all see the value for. These gifts help underline the question “What do you get for the God who created everything.”
There has been a lot of theological ink spent on the gifts the wise men bring to Jesus. The hymn, “We Three Kings,” speculates that the gold is for Christ as King, the incense for Christ as God, and the myrrh for the crucifixion. While there is some merit to this, all three gifts also simply fit as gifts provided to royalty. While the gifts are fitting for a newborn king, I often wonder if Mary and Joseph were left wishing for something that Jesus could actually use instead.
The wise men are not the only ones to bring gifts that are less than helpful with them to the manger. My favorite Christmas carol is “Drummer Boy,” which is another example of gift that is fitting for the giver but not necessarily what Jesus or his family needed. I love the song, but as a parent I cannot think of a gift I would want less than a someone coming in to drum to my young child. These gifts have something in common though other than how impractical they seem. The gifts are about people offering what they have to Jesus.
The wise men travel to meet this new born king and they bring gifts that make sense to them. The drummer boy does the same thing. He has nothing else to offer, but he can give the musical talents he has. The real gift they give is their heart, their presence, their love.
What gift does God want? God wants to be in a relationship with us. The reason for the incarnation is to build that relationship between us and God. In Jesus we experience a part of God we can actually connect with. Through Jesus we are offered grace and forgiveness to overcome our sins and restore our relationship with God. God does not need our wealth, our talents, our beauty, or our power. What God needs is each one of us.
We are going to be talking a lot in the coming weeks and months about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. At its core however, discipleship is about seeking this relationship with God. It is about offering ourselves as a gift to God. We give our time, our energy, our passion, and our love. God is willing to give fully to us. Are we ready to give fully to God?
If we are honest most of our gifts to God are like the wise men and the Drummer Boy. We bring the things that mean something to us, but they are not always what God really needs. God does not want our money, our time, our worship, any of it, if it does not also include our love, our heart, and a relationship with God. As we start this new year, are we ready for a new relationship with God that goes beyond the material gifts and offerings and moves into a deeper and fuller relationship with a God who lives and walks among us?
Questions to Ponder:
When is a time you gave a received a Christmas gift that was more about the person giving it than the person receiving it?
What does it mean to you to be in relationship with God?
When you think about discipleship, what comes to mind?
Prayer: God, so often we bring our gifts and offerings to you, thinking about ourselves and not about you. Open us up in this new year to remember that what you really want from us is a real relationship. Give us the strength to share openly with you as we walk together on the journey of discipleship. AMEN