I wonder what gifts you got for Christmas? I hope your family and friends gave you a good selection of presents!
The gifts of the Wise Men to Jesus
Its Epiphany Sunday today, and we heard in our Gospel reading the three different gifts that the wise men gave to the Christ-child. Matthew tells us Jesus was given three precious presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Presents that must have helped the holy family get by when they fled to Egypt to escape King Herod.
But like the star in the sky above, these gifts were spiritually significant too, and help us understand the identity and mission of the boy born in Bethlehem.
• Firstly, the gift of gold points to Jesus’ royal identity. He was a descendant of David, Israel’s greatest king to date. Yet Jesus was destined to be an even greater monarch. A glorious king like the one described in Psalm 72 this morning. Jesus was God’s promised Messiah, the man who would rule over an everlasting kingdom that extends to the ends of the earth. A king who calls people from every nation to trust in him.
• Secondly, frankincense was used by priests in the Jerusalem Temple. Priests acted as mediators between God and mankind. The sacrifices and prayers they offered enabled people to enjoy a relationship with God.
The New Testament tells us that Jesus came as our great High Priest. And it was at the Cross where he offered a perfect, once for all sacrifice to his Father. A sacrifice that secures the forgiveness of all who put their faith in him.
• Myrrh, meanwhile, was often used to anoint a corpse. It reminds us of the shocking truth that Jesus was the baby born to die. Our Saviour came to lay down his life at the Cross for our forgiveness, only to rise again forever at Easter.
Taken together, the wise men’s gifts remind us that Jesus is the great King, the perfect priest, the one who defeated death. Their generous gifts are a great guide to who Jesus was and what he came to do.
The gifts of Jesus to his church
At the first Epiphany Jesus was the recipient of gifts from the 3 magi. But today, in 2020, roles are reversed. Jesus is now the gift-giver. He is giving gifts to his church. Gifts given for life, not just for Christmas. And unlike some of the gifts we may have got at Christmas, the gifts that Christ gives his Church are all valuable, all useful – all just what we need.
The New Testament lists many of the gifts that Christ now gives to Christians. Gifts like wisdom, knowledge, faith and healing. Gifts like helpfulness, hospitality and musical ability. Yet more gifts include being merciful, being generous and being good at administration.
There are so many different gifts that Christ is willing and able to give to his Church! (In fact I sometimes think Heaven’s storeroom must be full of more gifts than a department store on the eve of the January sales!) The gifts are so varied that no one person has every gift. We need each other to.
Taken together, Christ gives his Church the gifts we need to serve God, to serve one another and share the Gospel with unbelievers.
At Christmas my children didn’t leave their presents wrapped under the tree. As soon as possible they tore off the wrapping paper to discover what they’d been given, and immediately started to play with them. We should do the same with the gifts Christ has given us. We need to discover them and use them. I hope my children, and all of us here, will spend the rest of our lives unwrapping and using the great gifts that we’ve been given.
So if we’re Christians here this morning, we need to ask Jesus to show us what gifts he’s given us. We need to pray that he’ll open our eyes to the abilities we have received. We need to ask for his guidance to put them to good use in our church and in our community.
We should also help each other discover our gifts. We should be on the look out for the gifts and talents that God has given our Christian brothers and sisters. What do we think the person sitting next to you is good at or could be good at? We need to tell each other what gifts and qualities we see in them, and encourage each other to put them to good use.
As I look around St. John’s, there are a host of opportunities for people to use their gifts. For example:
So as I finish this morning, I hope we’ve been reminded that Christ gives gifts to his Church, just as the three wise men gave gifts to him. God has given us all different attributes and talents. Gifts that we should use for the good of others and for the glory of God.
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