Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Can't Hide From God

SJF • Epiphany 3a • Tobias Haller BSG
Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways.+

Last week I was away on retreat with my Brothers, and we spent much of the retreat meditating on and discussing Genesis 3:1-7. So that ancient tale of the fall of our distant ancestors is very much in my mind. So I want to begin my sermon by casting our thoughts back in that direction.

From the time that Adam and Eve first ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and discovered that they weren’t dressed for dinner — indeed not dressed at all! — and hid themselves in the shrubbery so that God might not see them, people have been trying by one means or another to get away from God. Well, as Adam and Eve learned, and as people ever since have learned, you can’t get away from God. God has his eye on you, on me, on every single person on this world of ours, and there’s nowhere you can go to hide, no hiding place from the Lord’s piercing vision. And this strikes us most, we most keenly feel the relentless watchfulness of God, when we’ve done something wrong.

When I was about four and a half years old, I took it into my head one day when my parents were out of the house to disassemble my mother’s wristwatch, which she left on the dining room table. I always was an inquisitive child — I had tiny little hands perfectly designed for mischief — but unfortunately I was no watchmaker: I could take the watch apart all right, but I had no hope whatever of putting it back together. And I realized this fact with that awful sinking feeling that must have been very much like what Adam and Eve felt when they experienced the cool evening breezes and realized they weren’t wearing anything. And so, knowing of course that I couldn’t hide myself, I decided to hide the watch — or what was left of it! Going into the living room, I reached up as high as I could and put the watch, or I should say the remnants of the watch, up onto the mantlepiece over the fireplace, out of sight.

Out of my sight, that is. For of course, as soon as my parents got home, they found the disassembled wristwatch lying in pieces in plain sight at a very convenient level for them to see — I could hardly have chosen a more obvious place to display my misdeed. Well, suffice it to say I went without dinner that evening, and got a good whupping in addition. And I did, I hope, learn my lesson. And the lesson I learned wasn’t to pick a better hiding place, but to respect other people’s belongings!

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Sadly, down through human history, there are plenty of people who haven’t learned their lesson, who haven’t learned that you can’t just do what you want and not expect the consequences, who think that their misbehavior will remain out of sight and out of mind. The examples come so frequently one need only pick up the newspaper or listen to the TV news. Most recently, it seems, some people have forgotten that you can erase as many e-mails as you like, but eventually things will catch up with you! In fact, the supposedly missing e-mails more than anything else call attention to the problem, as glaring and obvious as a dismantled watch sitting on a mantlepiece. Yet so many times people will act like children who cover their own eyes and say, You can’t see me. Well, that just doesn’t work: you can’t hide from God, you can’t get away from God.

The prophet Amos reminded the people of Israel that not only could God see them, but that of all the families of the earth, God most particularly had his eye on them. And Amos called out to them in that ringing series of questions, questions that challenge us even today with a resounding, Who do you think you are? Don’t you know God has his eye on you? Don’t you know God has kept his appointment, and is here to judge you? Don’t you know that God is roaring like a lion in anger over you because he’s caught you? Don’t you know you’ve stepped in the bear-trap, and that disaster is coming to overtake you? Tremble, tremble: for God has his eye on you, and you can’t get away from God!

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The people of Corinth, now they tried a different approach to get away from God. They played a sort of a theological Three Card Monte, a kind of ecclesiastical shell game, choosing up sides and dividing themselves into subdivisions according to whom they liked the best, hoping, one supposes,

that God would get confused with the shuffling between allegiance to Apollos, or Cephas, or Paul, or yes even Christ, who in that congregation just became one more option among many. And the Apostle Paul, like the Prophet Amos, confronted them with a ringing series of questions. Do you think God is divided up among you? Don’t you know into whom you were baptized? Don’t you not know that Christ was crucified for you? Don’t you realize that Christ is our unity, not our division? Tremble, tremble: for God has his eye on you, and you can’t get away from God!

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Yes, brothers and sisters, it’s true; and we can’t get away from God, either. But we need not hear that as bad news; indeed we need only hear it as bad news if we are set in our ways to perdition, if we insist on persisting in wrongdoing — for those who choose that path it is indeed a frightening thought to know that there is no escape, that they can’t get away from God. Those who are trying to hide from God, to get away from God, will hear as bad news the fact that God knows where they are.

But we are not trying to hide from God. We’ve learned our lesson, and know it’s pointless trying to hide anyway. What we’ve come to understand is that we are not hiding, trying to get away from someone, but lost. And that changes everything.

If you are lost, the one thing you want to know most of all is that someone is looking for you; better yet, that someone knows where you are, that someone has his eye on you, and is coming, not to judge, but to rescue.

That makes all the difference, doesn’t it? You could look at Psalm 139, which we sang in a hymn version today, as the complaint of some guilty person who has been found out, someone who has tried to get away from God and found that however much he tries there is no escape. And perhaps with our obsession with the right to privacy (no doubt going back to Adam and Eve!) it is natural to read this psalm in this way. But think about it in a more positive light, and you will see that it is not a song of a guilty criminal confessing, “You caught me fair and square.” No, it is the song of praise to God, who is so vigilant and watchful that he will not allow a single one of his children to be lost, no matter how far they stray, to the ends of the earth, the far reaches of the sea, the height of the dawn or the depths of darkness.

And it is the same God who seeks the lost who comes to us in Jesus Christ, as he came to that land of Zebulun and Naphtali, that far off province of Galilee, a land looked upon by the other tribes of Israel as no better than a suburb of the Gentile Philistines and Phoenecians, people who, as far as they were concerned, were sitting in darkness, in the region and shadow of death. Jesus came to what the people of his day thought of as the most God-forsaken part of Palestine, in part to make the point that no place on earth is God-forsaken. There is no place that God will not go, no place that God’s Spirit will not penetrate, no place that is beyond God’s reach.

And whether that hand of God is reaching out to punish or to rescue will depend to the greatest extent on whether you are looking for a judge or a savior — for God is both! You can’t get away from God, either by running or hiding, or by getting yourself lost. Christ comes to the backwater of Galilee, and starts his ministry of recovering the lost ones, calling fishermen who will fish for men and women and children and bring them in, in to where God wants them to be.

We can’t get away from God — that is the good news of the kingdom, the cure for the disease of fear, the remedy for the sickness of hatred, the antidote for the poisonous debility of division, the healing balm for the malady of loss and despair.

And so let us rejoice, sisters and brothers, in the knowledge that God has his eye on us, he knows where we are when we stray, and will guide us back on to the right way; God is with us whether we walk in the light or in the dark, whether we walk with open eyes or closed, and his amazing grace and holy Spirit will seek us out and bring us home, and heal our sin-sick souls. We can’t get away from God, thanks be to God! +

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Hide and Seek

SJF • Epiphany 2a • Tobias Haller BSG

John the Baptist said, “I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed...”

As I said in my sermon two weeks ago, Epiphany means “showing forth.” By implication, something that is now shown once was hidden. Now, it’s clear that curiosity is very much a part of our human makeup. Even very young infants appreciate a game of peek-a-boo, and what game is more universal the world over than hide-and-seek?

The very idea of something hidden being revealed builds up anticipation. Perhaps I am aging myself, but I can well recall, not so very many years ago, car manufacturers would all bring out their new models at the same time each year. And in the weeks before the new models were set to debut, the car ads on TV would feature the new models — draped in sheets, so that all you could see was the outline of the car’s shape. And only after weeks of anticipation would the sheets be pulled off to the oohs and aahs of the eager public.

Of course, here in church we are interested in more important things than cars. But it seems that God works in much the same way as the car dealers, taking advantage of the human desire to look into secrets. We curious creatures want to break the code, Da Vinci or otherwise, to solve the mystery, finally to see what it is hidden under that sheet. So God takes advantage of our curiosity, and hides, and then reveals himself.

God, who remains to us unknowable in full (because a limited human mind cannot contain the infinite actuality of God) still allows himself to be known in part. As author H.G. Wood observed, “God would not be God if he could be fully known to us; but God would also not be God if he could not be known at all.” The question is, How do we know God? And the answer, as we will see, involves both God and us in give and take, a divine game of peek-a-boo or hide-and-seek or tag that God plays with his beloved children.

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The starting point, in this as in all else, lies with God. Our knowing God begins with God knowing us. God knows us completely, all that we are and all that we ever can be, because “God made us and we are his.” As Isaiah says, God called his chosen servant Israel before he was born; while still in his mother’s womb, God gave him a name. God didn’t simply see the future Israel; God saw all of the possible Israels that yet-unborn child might become, and worked with loving care to “form him in the womb to be his servant” like a potter slowly modeling a pot as the clay spins under her firm hands, urging the clay, balancing her own strength against the resistance of the clay so that it takes shape exactly as the potter wishes.

Yet clay would be no use to a potter if it didn’t also have its own inner strength, its own cohesiveness, its own native ability to take on form. God knows us, and knows what we are made of, and knows that what we are made of is suitable for the work he has for us to do. God does not sculpt with Jell-O; but rather with more enduring and solid stuff — for even if our flesh is grass, even if Adam was made from clay, still we are inbreathed with God’s own breath, and capable of bearing God’s likeness. What we are made of, that inner reality of what it means to be human, lies is our being made after God’s image, which means that we are able to know, and to love. So God’s revelation to us begins in this: God knows us, and so, knows that we are capable of knowing him.

If you are traveling in a foreign country and don’t speak the language, what’s the first thing you look for? Why, someone who speaks your language, someone who knows what you’re saying, right? God comes to us precisely because of all things in creation, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, we were made to know God, and to love God.

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So the game of hide-and seek continues. God has found us, “searched us out and known us,” God has tagged us, and we are now “it” — and it’s our turn to seek for God. So when we run after God with our questions, like the disciples of John we run after Jesus full of excitement and wonder. And how does Jesus respond? Well, the game of tag continues, and rather than giving a pat answer right away, he says, “Come and see.” God in Christ keeps the game going. Just when we think we have him cornered, he is off in another direction.

But not without a leaving a trail! When we get to where we think God is hiding, we find another clue to yet another hiding place, clues in the form of words and acts, of Scripture and Sacrament, each one an invitation to come to know him better. God continues the ongoing revelation, as he opened himself and revealed himself to his people Israel, step by step as they grew to know and love him better, and then in Jesus himself, and in the Spirit who continues to lead us into all truth: adding moves to the game, recurring surprises and unforeseen turns of events, each of which brings us deeper into a relationship.

Like all relationships, the relationship each of us has and all of us have with God — personal relationships and corporate relationships, as Israel and the Church have learned — will have their ups and downs. There have been times in my life when it seemed like God was completely hidden again, completely distant from me, utterly silent to my search for an answer. There are times I’ve felt like “It” in a game of hide-and-seek, in which all the other kids have been called home to supper, and I’m all alone in the gathering dusk, looking for people who aren’t even there anymore.

Isaiah experienced the same sort of desolation. Look what he says in today’s reading: “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing.” He feels like he’s wasted his time trying to redeem Israel. They just won’t play! Then look how God responds, finally, out of that silence and desolation. God doesn’t just say, “There, there. Yes, you’ll redeem Israel; yes you will.” No, God tells his servant, “It is too easy for you to redeem just Israel… I’m going to give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth!” God doesn’t just restore the relationship, God raises it to a higher level.

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Like all good and lasting relationships, the relationship we have with God grows and expands in unexpected ways. And the primary way that relationship grows and expands is in community, the community of the church. For it is here, where the Word and Sacraments are shared, that the knowledge of God is opened up, that the love of God takes form. Here we become God’s agents for letting God be known.

What’s the first thing you do when you’ve had a wonderful experience? What was the first thing Andrew did after meeting Jesus and spending a day with him? He went and found his brother Simon Peter. Building on his own relationship with God, he opened that relationship to his brother, bringing him into the growing circle of disciples. The church reaches out to those who feel abandoned, surprising and reminding them that they are not alone.

What, after all, is the church? It’s as if you finally found all your friends, who you thought had gone home for the night, all hiding in the same place — and it turns out it’s a surprise party just for you! This is how the church grows, sharing the knowledge of God; and it is the only way in which it grows right and true and firm and secure.

A church that grows on slogans and gimmicks, on false promises or glitzy promotions, will quickly crumble when problems arise. But a church that grows in the knowledge and the love of God will endure. This is the kind of church we are called to be: a church built upon the truth that God has known us and chosen us; a church built upon the relationship each of us has with our loving God and Father in heaven and upon the relationships we have with each other; a church in which each and every one of us, illumined by God’s Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known and loved, worshiped and adored to the ends of the earth.+

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Debuts and Renovations

SJF • Epiphany 1 • Tobias Haller BSG

See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before the spring forth, I tell you of them.+

Many cultures around the world have developed ways of recognizing important transitions in young people’s lives. Some of these are social, and some are religious — and some are both. A Jewish boy, for example, can look forward to the day of his bar mitzvah — the day on which he becomes responsible for observing the Jewish law, at about the age of 13. In many Latino cultures, a young woman looks forward to celebrating her 15th birthday with a Quinceañera — often a lavish party that looks a little like a junior version of a wedding — and like a wedding, can set back her parents a pretty penny!

In high society circles in Europe and the United States there used to be an event in the social calendar each year when young women from the leading families would make their first appearance in polite society, usually at a ball or some other formal function. This would be their debut, and so they were called “debutantes.” This was the time when a young woman — who had up till then lived a fairly private life in her father’s house — was presented to all of the eligible young men to begin the process of matchmaking leading to marriage — and her transfer to her husband’s house. Although I’m told this still goes on in some circles, I think we have moved rather far from the days of Jane Austen and Scarlett O’Hara!

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In today’s Gospel, however, we hear of another kind of debut. It may seem odd that in just two weeks we have jumped all the way from the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, and the visit of the Magi last week, to his baptism in the River Jordan at about the age of 30. But it is no secret that the Gospels tell us almost nothing about Jesus from the time of his infancy to the time of his baptism — the only exception being Matthew’s passing reference to the fact that Jesus lived in Nazareth, and Luke’s account of that visit to Jerusalem about the time of Jesus’s own bar mitzvah, when he worried his parents, and to calm their fears said he must be about his Father’s business.

It appears, though, that he took his time in preparing for that business, for from the age of 12 or so until he was about 30, the gospel record is silent. Many people have offered speculations about Jesus’ childhood, youth, and young manhood; but the speculation remains just that. All we know from the gospel itself is that Jesus reached the rather ripe age of 30 or so without making any particular kind of splash in the world.

Until that day at the River Jordan. And what a splash that was — and what a debut! Perhaps the most interesting thing about this incident as Matthew describes it lies not so much with Jesus as with John the Baptist. For John immediately recognizes Jesus as someone very special — Matthew’s Gospel suggests he recognized Jesus as the very one who’s coming John had prophesied! And he recognizes this without Jesus having done anything spectacular for those 30 or so years of his life in Galilee. Even before Jesus has begun to teach or preach or work a miracle, John the clear-eyed prophet can see the importance of what is going on right in front of him, and recognizes the one who comes to him. He immediately perceives Jesus to be the bringer of grace, the bringer of blessing, the one who is to come to make all things new, the one who will begin the great renovation, not just of the house of Israel, but of the whole world.

And so John and plays his part, like the good matchmaker he is — after all, John would later call Jesus the bridegroom, and John knew he was not the center of the story — John steps aside. John is like the manager of the banquet hall who sets up the Quinceañera or the bar mitzvah or the sweet sixteen party, or the coming-out ball for this season’s debutantes; and then steps aside and fades into the background, as the proud father — in this case the Father in heaven — beams with delight in his beloved Son and pours out his Spirit upon him, visibly descending like a dove.

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Does that sound familiar? We’ve all seen fathers or mothers at parties such as the ones I’ve described — at a graduation or a prom, or a wedding, beaming with pride and delight as their child steps forth into the world as a new person.

And so we shall see that today — for baptism is itself the fundamental great new beginning and it makes those who are baptized into new persons: it is both debut and renovation, all in one. Although we aren’t at the River Jordan, still the baptism here will be like the baptism of Christ; for these children here today at Saint James Church will be baptized into Christ, in water like the water in which he was baptized, and they will be anointed with the same Spirit with which he was anointed: God’s Holy Spirit. And the parents and godparents here will beam with delight, a delight that God himself shares — for God will have gained new children by adoption this day.

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I said last week that the Epiphany season is about the manifestation of Christ to the world. His baptism marked his own first step into that world — the debut of his active ministry, emerging from the shadows of those 30 years of quiet life in Nazareth of Galilee. And the baptism of these children here today will mark a new beginning for them; and it will also be a manifestation of the presence of God. They will have become members of Christ’s body, the church. From now on, where ever they go, whatever they do, they will do so as members of the Christian family, marked as Christ’s own, forever. As they grow to maturity, they will do so within that context, in that environment: for their parents and godparents will promise that they will, with God’s help, bring these children up “in the Christian faith and life.” And all of us here will promise that we will, by our “prayers and witness help these children to grow into the full stature of Christ.”

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We have come to the beginning of a new year, and it is so fitting to celebrate baptism at this point. We celebrate both the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the baptism of these children. In their debut, we find renovation. For it provides us an opportunity to make a new year’s resolution of a very particular sort. We will in a few moments renew our own baptismal vows even as we support the vows made on behalf of these children. That renewal is an invitation to renovation, for all of us and each of us.

And we will pray for God’s blessing, and we will sing of God’s redemption, and we will give thanks for the gift of water — through which the world was created, and judged, and redeemed. And these children, and all of us, will begin a new life on this day — brand-new or re-newed: our common life as members of the household of God, all of us children of a loving Father in heaven who pours out his Spirit upon us.

“See, the former things have come to pass, and new things are now declared! Before they spring forth, I tell you of them.” In the power of the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit may we all become anew God’s servants, his chosen ones, in whom his soul delights.+

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Three Gifts for the Child

Saint James Fordham • Epiphany • Tobias Haller BSG

Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.+

This year is one of those rare years (about one in seven) when the feast of the Epiphany falls on a Sunday. Epiphany is the day that marks the beginning of the post-Christmas season, the day after the twelfth day of Christmas — I assume the day when people go to the department store return-desks with arms full of geese a-laying, calling birds, French hens, a pair of turtle-doves and a partridge complete with pear tree. Perhaps they should go to the poulterer’s instead of the department store! I suppose one would hold on to the five gold rings, of course...

Which brings me to my serious reflection for this day; for gold was also one of the gifts the wise men brought to the Christ child on that first Epiphany so long ago. What a strange name, for a day of strange gifts from strange people! Epiphany — it’s an old Greek word that has a simple meaning in English. It means showing forth! And the subtitle of this holy-day helps us understand just what it is that is being shown forth. For the Prayer Book, on page 31, tells us that the subtitle of Epiphany is “the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.” Starting today, and throughout the season of Epiphany, we will hear in our Gospel readings just how Christ manifested himself in his earthly life, what he did to show himself forth not only to his disciples but to the whole world.

So it is on the feast of the Epiphany we start at the very beginning, with the coming of the foreign wise men to bring their gifts to the infant Christ. Many traditions have grown up around this event, most of them not actually included among the scriptural details in Matthew’s gospel. We’ve come to think of these visitors as the Three Kings, but the gospel doesn’t call them kings, nor does it even specifically say there were three of them. The gospel calls them “wise men.” It tells us that they came to find a child at the prompting of the rising of a star, a child who was to become the new king of the Jews. And the gospel tells us that they brought three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Because of the three gifts, tradition assigned a wise man to each — for who would show up without a gift!

In addition the tradition portrayed the three wise men as representing three different races of the Gentile world, joining with the shepherds reported by Saint Luke, who represented the common poor Jewish people of Judea. In this way the faithful down the years wove together Matthew and Luke, and added imaginative details to fill out the story, and fill up our table-top creche. And this is not entirely out of keeping, even though it isn’t strictly speaking scriptural — for as my old liturgy professor used to say, “Listen to the people of God.” The church has its wisdom, and that includes all the members of the church — and the wisdom in this case lies in seeing what this feast-day is all about: the opening of the doors of salvation, so that the whole world, Jewish and Gentile, is represented kneeling at the Christmas crib — the Jews represented by the shepherds first on Christmas, and the Gentiles represented by the wise men following on the feast of the Epiphany.

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However, today, rather than exploring the possible ethnic background of the wise men, or the church’s embroidery on the story, I would like to stick a bit closer to the fabric of the gospel text itself, and take a careful look at those three gifts that the wise men brought. For here the text is clear and explicit, and we need rely on no uncertain tradition. The gifts presented to the young child were treasures of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Although in these days the latter two gifts are widely available and reasonably priced — the frankincense we burn in our censer costs only about six dollars a pound, and a little goes a long, long way — at the time of the birth of Christ all three items were very valuable, and the frankincense and myrrh were even more costly than gold.

But in addition to their value as mere commodities, and far more important, is the symbolic meaning of these gifts. Remember, Epiphany is about showing forth, it is about symbolism and demonstration, and manifestation. In short, it is about revelation. So what do the gold and the frankincense and the myrrh reveal to us? What do these three gifts tell us about the one to whom they were given?

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Gold is the symbol of royalty. “Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain, gold I bring to crown him again” — so we sang in the hymn before the gospel. Royalty in just about every human culture for as long as we can tell were adorned with gold — from Pharaoh to the Inca to the Emperor of China. The first prehistoric person who found gold in the earth or in the river-bed recognized its special qualities: a shining metal that did not tarnish, flexible yet durable, which could be made into almost any kind of ornament; heavy and yet subtle, solid and substantial, and yet capable of being beaten into leaves as light as air, glowing in the firelight or the sunlight, a truly royal metal. So it is that golden crowns and necklaces have been cast for royalty for centuries. And so it was that the wise men offered gold to this child who was to be the king not just of the Jews but of the whole world.

Frankincense is the symbol of prayer and praise. Again, as our hymn at the gospel said, frankincense “owns a Deity nigh; prayer and praising gladly raising.” In ancient times frankincense was offered in temples all over the world as a sign of worship. As Psalm 141 puts it: “Let my prayer be set forth in your sight as incense; the lifting of my hands as the evening sacrifice...” This costly resin was harvested from trees that grew in Ethiopia, carried by caravans to the distant East, and into Europe, valued all over the known world, and offered in the worship of many faiths. We continue to do the same to this day. For we still burn frankincense in our liturgy, the symbol of prayer ascending in a cloud, a gift that is utterly consumed as it burns, something we must give up completely and offer to God, for once it is burned we can’t take it back; and as we offer this up, we commit to God’s gracious hands all our needs, concerns, and gratitude. And so it was that the wise men offered frankincense to this child who was the Word made Flesh, the nearer presence of the unapproachable God who dwells in inaccessible light, come down to earth to receive the prayers and praise of all people.

Myrrh is the strangest of the three gifts to be offered to this child. Yes, myrrh was another valuable kind of incense, a resin used in a number of different ancient brews. But the primary use of myrrh in the ancient world was in embalming the dead, preserving dead bodies and preparing them for burial. “Its bitter perfume breaths a life of gathering gloom; sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb.” Hardly the kind of thing one brings to a baby shower! Yet this was the third gift of the wise men, and their wisdom was vindicated in the end. For myrrh is the symbol of death, and this gift reminds us that even in the joy of Christmas death is not that far away. Matthew’s gospel continues its story to tell how Herod would soon send soldiers to murder the innocent children of Bethlehem, so set was he on wiping out the threat to his throne. Only a dream to warn Joseph, and another to warn the wise men not to return to Herod give the Holy Family time to escape to Egypt. So even at the manger, death is looming not far away. And let us remember as well, that the village of Bethlehem where Christ was born is only five miles from Jerusalem where he died; Golgotha and its cross are also not so very far away from the stable and its manger.

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Gold, frankincense and myrrh: these are the gifts that the wise men gave to the Christ child, symbols of royalty, worship, and death. They show us what these wise men thought of the one to whom they brought the gifts. They honored his kingship, they acknowledged his divinity, and they foretold his death.

But these three gifts also show forth and reveal what Christ gave to us. He gave us his humble royalty, not lording it over us but coming to us as one of us. He gave us his divine presence, assuring us that we are not forsaken and alone, but companions with him on our earthly pilgrimage, as he walks with us to teach us and opens his words to us even as he hears the words of our prayers. And he gave us his saving death, that precious gift that opened the way of everlasting life. These are the gifts that Christ gave to the world.

And the gifts the wise men brought also show us what we are to give to Christ in return. For in return for his royalty and divinity and death, we give him our obedience, our worship, and —not our deaths — but our lives, dedicating ourselves to the pure service of the love of God and neighbor.

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The Epiphany season has begun, the time to behold God revealed to us as one of us, and it starts with the gifts at the birth of the babe of Bethlehem. May we throughout this Epiphany season remember the meaning of those gifts, and offer to our Lord and God all obedience and all worship, and the tribute of our selves, our souls and bodies, as a reasonable and holy sacrifice to him who saved us, even Christ our Lord.+