We’ve had a great time opening presents these 12 Days of Christmas -- today’s the 4th day? -- and we had a big box arrive from my grandparents in St. Louis on Friday, and so we opened some presents from them yesterday.
My dad got a great present from them. It was wrapped in a shoe-box-sized box, with a tag on it that said “To Dave, From Mom and Dad”. And then, under the tag was written in parentheses, “Please share.”
He opened the box to discover a fabulous assortment of Grandma’s Christmas cookies. We chuckled at the important instructions, and then everyone reached into dad’s new box and took a cookie or two, as he passed them around the table.
A simple, fun scene from our house at lunchtime yesterday.
The story of the magi in our Gospel text from Matthew today, is a picture of God giving the world a gift, wrapped not in wrapping paper, but in swaddling clothes; laid, not in a shoe-box, but in a manger. The tag is addressed to God’s chosen people -- Jesus is born to a humble and faithful Jewish family and lineage. But under the tag through the Gospel of Matthew and throughout our Holy Book are the instructions, “Please share.”
The story of the magi visiting from far away is the first of the bookends of the Gospel of Matthew. Here at the beginning we see God’s promises opening up to all people -- every race, every culture, everywhere. This all happens through the birth of Jesus the Messiah. Luke’s Christmas story that we always share on Christmas Eve emphasizes God’s good news coming to the least, the lost, and the lowly, people like the “scruffy old riff-raff” shepherds in the middle of nowhere, right?
But Matthew’s Christmas story has a different emphasis: here in Matthew, God’s good news goes global. It has cosmic implications. Someone once said, God’s love for this world has the power to move the stars. “Jesus is for everyone. Please share.” Reach in. Have some. Jesus is for you. Pass it along...
I said this story was the first of the bookends. Do you remember how the book of Matthew ends? Matthew ends with Jesus giving the Great Commission: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (KJV).
There’s a tag on God’s gift for you. It’s addressed “To [you], From God,” and then it instructs, “Please share.” And this good word is sweeter than Grandma’s delicious cookies!
In a world wracked with violence and guilt -- see, the violence doesn’t stop just because Jesus is born -- sometimes it seems as though the peace of “Silent Night, Holy Night” only lasts a few verses (if at all). So in a world filled with pain and sorrow, God’s star-shifting love for the whole human family becomes profound and transformative.
This star that the magi followed -- and the child to whom it led -- transformed them. It says they went home by another road. Not the way of Herod, of evil and of violence, but by another way. We are transformed too, by God’s love. “Please share.”[pause]
You know this is a great story. And it’s funny to think about so called “wise men” coming to a new land and going straight to the current king, and asking about where the child is who will topple his regime was just born. What was that about?
I think there’s something there about speaking truth to power.
We’ve seen those themes through the Old Testament this fall: Moses standing up to Pharaoh, Esther before her king, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah -- all prophesying: “What you see before you will not last!”
These were all Jewish people, God’s special chosen people -- Jews. Now God is using outsiders to teach us about who God is: “What you see, Herod (and all Jerusalem with you) will not last! A new regime is at hand, and it won’t look like the world’s mighty regime. God’s regime will be one of peace; the meek will inherit the earth.” There’s lots we don’t know about the magi, but we do know that they came from outside, and from far away. So now God doesn’t just use insiders to carry the message, God also uses the foreigner, the stranger...the one who doesn’t know our traditions and our customs. [pause]
Christmas Eve 11pm service: two years in a row now. They don’t leave after I say, “Go in peace serve the Lord.” They stay. They’re not from here. So they don’t know, and we laugh a little bit at them in the back of the church. But I’ve been thinking about what they’re staying and sitting quietly might teach us insiders. [They’ve come to worship this one named Jesus.]
Sisters and brothers in Christ, this is the in-breaking of God. Watch for signs of it all around you this new year. Watch for it in places you’d expect, and really watch for it in unexpected places. Christ is here to stay. “Lo, I am with you always,” he says, “even to the ends of the world.”
God-with-us, Emmanuel, is ours...to share.