< back to Sermon archive

Sermon for Sunday 6 January 2019

First Reading                                     Isaiah 60:1-6

1Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. 3And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. 4Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. 5Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 6A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.

Psalm                                                          Psalm 72:1-15

1Give the King your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the King’s Son; 2That he may rule your people righteously and the poor with justice; 3That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, and the little hills bring righteousness. 4He shall defend the needy among the people; he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor. 5He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, from one generation to another. 6He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, like showers that water the earth. 7In his time shall the righteous flourish; there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more. 8He shall rule from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. 9His foes shall bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust. 10The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute, and the kings of Arabia and Saba offer gifts. 11All kings shall bow down before him, and all the nations do him service. 12For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, and the oppressed who has no helper. 13He shall have pity on the lowly and poor; he shall preserve the lives of the needy. 14He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, and dear shall their blood be in his sight. 15Long may he live! and may there be given to him gold from Arabia; may prayer be made for him always, and may they bless him all the day long.

Second Reading                            Ephesians 3:1-12

1For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles — 2assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

Gospel                                                 Matthew 2:1-12

1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” 7Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.


As many of know I’m sure, yesterday was the last of the 12 days of Christmas.  So, I hope you ladies are enjoying your partridge in a pear tree, two turtle doves, three French hens, four calling birds, and particularly your five golden rings.  Today is, of course, Epiphany, the day we celebrate the arrival of the three magi offering their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the newborn King.

You may have heard about the three six-year-old boys who were playing the wise men in their church Christmas program.  As they came up to Mary and Joseph at the stable, the first one handed over his present and said, “Gold.”  The second presented his gift and said, “Myrrh.”  The third one then gave them his treasure and said, “And Frank sent this.”  Makes sense to me.  When you think about it, what do children know about frankincense and myrrh?  Of course, as someone has noted, if it had been the Three Wise Women who came seeking the newborn king, they would have had directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts.

Here’s one more piece of trivia you might find interesting:  Back in 1984, a French perfume creator figured out a way to combine all three of the Magi’s gifts into a new fragrance.  For $525, he would sell you a 24-karat gold-plated flask containing one-third ounce of “Amouage.”  The perfume was a blend of frankincense and myrrh.  So, for those of you looking for a replacement gift, and have plenty of money, this might be just the thing!

Today, along with many other Christians around the world, we celebrate what’s more properly known as the Feast of the Epiphany.  And because the 6th of January only falls on Sunday every 6 years, I wanted to share a few interesting facts with you.  The Feast of the Epiphany, unlike here in the US, is a public holiday in many countries and marks two events in Jesus’ life:  first is when the three wise men, or Maji, visited the infant Jesus and the second event was when St. John the Baptist baptized Jesus.  Of course, we’ll celebrate Jesus’ baptism next Sunday.

Next, Epiphany not only concludes the celebration of Christmas, it also marks the start of what some see as the carnival season, which concludes on Fat Tuesday or Marti Gras.  In some European countries, such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia, children dress as the three kings and visit houses.  In their roles as the kings, or wise men, they sing about Jesus’ birth and pay homage to the “King of kings”.  They are then rewarded with praise and cookies.

In many Latin American countries, it’s the three wise men, and not Santa Claus, who bring gifts for children.  Children write letters to the wise men telling them how good they were and what gifts they want.  In France, Le Jour des Rois (the Day of Kings), is celebrated with parties for children and adults.  In Spain, children fill their shoes with straw or grain for the three kings’ horses to eat, and place their shoes on balconies or by the front door on Epiphany Eve.  The next day they find cookies, sweets or gifts in their place.  The “three kings” make an entry in many cities in Spain on Epiphany Eve, accompanied by military bands and drummers in medieval dress.

            Epiphany is also a public holiday in countries such as Austria, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, Ethiopia, parts of Germany, Greece, Italy, Slovakia, Spain, and Uruguay.  It isn’t, as I mentioned before, a public holiday in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States (except in the US Virgin Islands where it is a public holiday).

Epiphany is also commonly known as Three Kings’ Day.  It means “manifestation” or “showing forth”.  It’s also called Theophany (“manifestation of God”), especially by Eastern Christians.  Epiphany refers not only to the day itself, but to the church season that follows it – a season that has a varied length because it ends on Ash Wednesday when Lent begins, and this depends on the date of Easter.  For those in the Western Christian and Roman Catholic churches, we emphasize the visit of the Magi when we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany.  

Interestingly, Epiphany is one of the oldest Christian feasts.  It has been celebrated since the end of the second century, before the Christmas holiday was established.  Various paintings, artworks and sketches show the three wise men and Jesus.  Some paintings and other artwork show the three wise men on the way to Bethlehem or adoring baby Jesus.  The kings are important because their visit illustrates that Jesus is the King of all kings who came for the Jews and the Gentiles.

Additionally, the star that guides the wise men to Christ also symbolizes Epiphany, as well as the three gifts they gave to Jesus:  Gold, a gift fit for a king, Frankincense which was used to worship at a temple and Myrrh which had two purposes, one for embalming, a foretelling of Jesus’ death and second, as a salve for irritations such as diaper rash.  I’m sure this came in handy in the weeks and months ahead.  But who are these Oriental kings and what kind of men were the Magi? 

In the folklore of our faith, they are given the names–Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.  In some portrayals, the men have distinctive racial features—Melchior is European; Balthasar is African; and Caspar is Asian.  The intent is for them to represent people from all over the world coming to seek Jesus.  Obviously these Maji weren’t lowly peasants, this is why they’ve been characterized as kings. 

Herod and all of Jerusalem wouldn’t have been distressed if three peasants came seeking the newborn king.  Matthew writes, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?  We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.’  When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”  I doubt that three nobodies would have had such impact.  They’ve also been called Wise Men, of course.  Certainly, they were students of the stars.  Astrologers, perhaps.  They’d seen a star, a star unlike any other star, and they followed it until it came to rest over the house where the young child lay.

The whole story is a stirring drama.  Magi, kings, wise men.  European, African, Asian.  We really don’t know much about these three men, but we do know three things.  First, they were men of action.  Second, they saw the star and they followed it.   And third, there are the people in every generation who contribute to the race’s advancement, people who see stars and follow them.  Benjamin Disraeli once said, “The secret of success in life is for a person to be ready for opportunity when it comes.”  H. Jackson Brown, Jr. put it like this: “Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor.”   These three men saw the star, and without delay, they mounted their camels, and hit the road.

In 1982 a woman named Celeste Tate was shocked by how much good food supermarkets throw away.  She persuaded a store manager to donate the expired items to help the less fortunate.  She and David McKinley set up shop in a garage.  Soon they had built the first Gleaners supermarket for the needy in Las Vegas.  They chose the name Gleaners from the Old Testament practice of leaving some grain in the fields after harvesting so that the poor and sojourners could gather it.

Today the Las Vegas store serves about 20,000 people a month.  There are now 194 stores based on the Gleaners model in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Holland and China.  These not-for-profit shops receive food and other perishable goods from supermarkets and big businesses, repackage them and either give them away to the needy, or sell them at dramatically reduced prices for those whose budgets are limited.  The Department of Health and Human Services has called Gleaners the most outstanding food program in the United States.  And it began because one woman was shocked at the waste in our supermarkets.

Nothing happens in this world until someone sees a star and follows it.  These three Magi were obviously men of action.  Of course, not every star is worthy of being followed.  There are many people who are by nature impulsive.  They may jump at any star–only to regret it later.  Some of you are old enough to recognize the name Carl Perkins.

Perkins was a popular rockabilly singer from the 50s and the author of the classic song “Blue Suede Shoes” which was one of Elvis Presley’s first big hits.  As a guitarist, Perkins influenced many of the next generation of rock ‘n’ rollers, most prominently, George Harrison of the Beatles.  Perkins never quite attained the fame of some of his more notorious colleagues.  He once explained it like this: “I never envied Elvis his mansion and all that.  All those boys–Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison–they all lost their wives, their families.  People say, ‘What happened to you, Carl?  All of them went on to superstardom.  Where’d you go?’  I say, ‘I went home.’  And that’s a good place to be.”

Carl Perkins made a choice not to follow the star of fame with the same intensity as some of his contemporaries.  He felt that his star was at home.  Sometimes that’s a wise choice to make.  Still, if we all chose to stay at home, the world would come to a grinding halt.  The three Magi were men of action.  They were also men of determination.

Theirs might have seemed to be a foolish adventure at times–following this star they had seen in the East.  But they persevered until the star they followed came to rest over a house, and they knew their journey was complete.  I love it when people follow through on a noble task and see it through until it’s completed–whether that task is building a business, or a home, or a ministry, or whatever star they may be following.

Mary Kay Ash, who built Mary Kay cosmetics into a corporate giant, once said: “If we ever decide to compare knees, you’re going to find that I have more scars than anyone else in the room.  That’s because I’ve fallen down and gotten up so many times in my life.”  Those are the people who are successful in the world.  People who refuse to give up.  People who follow their star regardless of the obstacles.

Motivational speaker Earl Nightingale once told the story of an American team of mountain climbers who set out to conquer Mount Everest.  Before the team left the U.S., a psychiatrist interviewed them.  Each was asked individually, privately, “Will you get to the top of Everest?”  There was a wide assortment of answers.  “Well, Doc, I’ll do my best.”  “I’m sure going to try.”  Each knew the formidable challenge they faced.  But one of them, a slightly built team member, gave a totally different answer.  When the psychiatrist asked him the question, he thought for a moment and then quietly answered, “Yes, I will.”  Not surprisingly, he was the first to make it to the peak of Mt. Everest.

Nightingale comments: “Yes, I will–three of the most potent words in our language.  Whether spoken quietly, loudly, or silently, those three words have propelled more people to success and have been responsible for more human achievement than all other words in the English language combined.”  The Magi were men of action, men of determination.  They were “Yes, I will” people.  But more than anything else, the three Magi were men of faith.

As they told King Herod, they were following their star that they might worship the one who had been born king of the Jews.  The three wise men came with pure hearts.  Their purpose was worship and praise.  They came not to find gold, but to find God.  Their purpose was to offer up gifts to their Savior and Redeemer.  One of the oldest Christian legends is the charming story concerning the Well of the Magi near Bethlehem.

The people of Bethlehem made a practice of going to this well during Christmas week.  There they would bend over the opening of the well and cover themselves and the opening with blankets or cloaks, to shut out the light of day.  Then, as they peered into the dark well, the star of Bethlehem, according to this pious practice, could be seen moving slowly across the water–but only by those who were pure of heart.

The three Magi would certainly have seen the star, just as they did 2,000 years ago because they were pure of heart, they were men of faith and their priority was worship and praise.  I wonder if such a star should appear in the heavens today if you and I might see it.  Are our hearts pure enough?  Is our faith real enough?  Theologian John Calvin once said, “If the sight of the star had so powerful an effect on the Magi, woe to our insensibility, who, now that Christ the King has been revealed to us, are so cold in our inquiries after Him.”

The star the Maji saw can still be seen because Jesus is the light of the world.  We need to follow that light.  As people who follow the light of Christ, we can make a difference in the world so long as we’re not content to sit on the sidelines.  We must set on sights on that worthy Light and then follow Him with all our hearts.  But more than simply following God’s Light, we also need to bow before Him in adoration and praise and offer Him the only gift we can give, ourselves.

Amen �<

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.

< back to Sermon archive