Sermon for January 2: Open Your Treasures Daily
Open Your Treasures Daily
Epiphany; January 2, 2022
These guys are amazing. Let’s start by being clear about what we know, what we don’t know, and what we can reasonably surmise. Matthew calls them “magi,” who were Persian priests. Although the word is the root of our word “magic,” they were not magicians; they used fire in their rituals and burned incense as part of their worship of Ahura Mazda, the great God of the Zoroastrians. One aspect of Zoroastrian faith was the expectation of the coming of a Savior.
So these men were priests from Persia who followed a new star. The star may have been a nova, or a comet, or a conjunction… or something entirely supernatural. We know there were at least two of them, since the word is plural, but we don’t know how many. We in the West have traditionally said there were three of them, since they brought three kinds of gifts, but in the East they have traditionally said there were twelve of them, to coincide with the Twelve Patriarchs and the Twelve Apostles.
They were probably not kings, despite the hymn we sang at the beginning (“We Three Kings of Orient Are”), but the idea that they were kings probably comes from Isaiah 60:3. These men were priests and scholars, recognizing that this new star heralded the coming of a new order, and they were probably inspired to follow it to Judea because of the prophecy of Balaam:
I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near –
A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel. (Numbers 24:17)
And what moves me most about them is the strength of their conviction. They had faith in the prophecy and they had faith in their interpretation of the prophecy and in where the star led them. Not only did they follow it on a long journey from Persia but – and this is what really moves me – they believed that this child they met was the King they were seeking. It makes sense they would have gone first to Jerusalem, to the palace of Herod the Great, to look for the scepter that would rise out of Israel. But there they didn’t find the King they sought; they went to Bethlehem and found a peasant child. And they believed. They believed this was the answer to their quest, this was the King they sought, and they opened their treasures: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
When did they arrive? We ordinarily include them in our Nativity scenes, as though they arrived the night Jesus was born. Given what Herod did next, we can be sure they arrived sometime within two years of Jesus’ birth. In the West, we usually associate their arrival with Epiphany, which is January 6, twelve days after Christmas. That works as well as anything.
So yes, twelve days of Christmas: December 25 to January 5. In our British-oriented cultural history, Christmas Day was a quiet day of going to church and being with your family. Gifts were exchanged on January 1. The eleven days of December 26 to January 5 were for parties, open houses, games, and general merriment. Ask me someday about wassailing and about the Lord of Misrule.
In some cultures – Spain, Mexico, and other Spanish-oriented places – gifts are usually exchanged on January 6, Epiphany, and instead of being brought by Santa Claus they are brought by the Magi.
I have heard of families in our country that give twelve gifts – smaller ones, of course – one each day of Christmas. One may be, for example, a coupon to spend a day at the park of one’s choice. Instead of a blow-out on December 25, a twelve-day observance that isn’t over as soon as the retail calendar is done with it. That leads me to the thought of opening a treasure every day.
The Magi brought treasures – gold, frankincense, and myrrh – and opened them for the Child. I think that their greatest treasure, however, was the faith that kept them on the road and that led them to rejoice when they saw not a royal prince but a peasant child with his Mother. You too have treasures that you can offer the Child, because of the faith you have in Him.
2022 will be a year of great change for us. Although I will retire from the pastorate in May, I will not retire from being a minister of the Gospel. My task will be to identify what treasures I have to offer Jesus when I am no longer a pastor. Your task as a Church will be to identify what particular treasures you have to offer Jesus that make you unique as a congregation. And this is my challenge to you as individuals: spend some time this year identifying what treasures you have. You may have gold, frankincense, or myrrh. You may have a gift for tutoring young people. You may have insight into how mechanical or electronic things work. You may be great with numbers, or with paints and pastels. What treasure do you carry?
Identify your treasure and in 2022 commit yourself to opening that treasure for Christ every day. It will be a wonder to see what Christ will do with the treasure you open.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master