This sermon is based on scripture, Matthew 2:1-12.
He was a successful importer/exporter in Charax in the South East corner of the Roman Empire. He specialized in spices and scents and made a good amount of gold at it. What he loved though was astronomy. At night he would gather about six or seven merchants in the area and they would look at the stars and read ancient texts about them rediscovering what others had written long ago.
They called themselves the Wise Men, almost ironically because they really had no training in this science. Which is why they got excited when they thought they found a star that no one else had written about. One of the Wise Men was married to a woman whose roots were a religion from the west. Her father was a teacher in this religion and he had scrolls of writings. With the rabbi’s help, The Wise Men pored over them and found there was one group of people expecting this star.
The star was part of a prophecy from his religion for a savior for all people. Since they had a western trade to make anyway, they packed up their spices and scents and went to that area of the empire to investigate further. On their camels they loaded their frankincense, myrrh and a lot of gold for spending money on the journey and set out.
They were greeted warmly by the King of the area, who wanted to hear more about their thoughts on the star his people had noticed, too. He was a little too nice, raising their suspicions. So they promised him their full cooperation, but were glad to leave him when they journeyed to where the prophecy led them, Bethlehem.
It was at Bethlehem, a backwater village of 2000 or so nestled in wasteland that the story changed for them. They had a sense, a call, a voice, it is hard to put a name to it unless you have experienced it yourself, but whatever spoke to them made it clear it wasn’t the star they were after, but where the star was leading them. They searched out boys born in the last year in this tiny village, visiting twenty or so families, until they knocked on the right door. When an old carpenter opened and showed them his young wife and child, they simply knew. They knew.
They got on their knees and bowed their heads to this drooling, cooing baby, something they had not intended. They sent out their servants to empty the packs and bring it to this family as gifts to share. They left themselves enough gold to get home, but otherwise gave all of their scents and spices and gold to this poor family, not even thinking of what such impoverished people would do with such riches. They just knew it was the thing to do.
They left quickly and at night not wanting to be a burden to the family or cause them undo notice. They heard along the road home that the family had to leave, too. The carpenter and his family were able to flee to Egypt and start a new life because of the riches they had left behind. If the Wise Men hadn’t left those gifts, the king would have been able to capture them and kill that toddler they had bowed too. The Wise Men traveled back to the East, surprised by their joy in being part of something bigger than themselves.
These imagined details of the story from Matthew emphasize how our gifts offered to Jesus fit into a plan far bigger than we can imagine. In the waters of baptism, all have been given abundant gifts that are to be placed at the feet of Jesus, just like the Wise Men 2000 years ago. Their impact will be in ways that we can’t even gather from our vantage point. If we listen, we will know the right thing to do with what we have been given.
God is preparing you now to bear gifts to Jesus. You may be surprised at just what that gift might be. I love music. I have 1000’s of songs on my IPod. Paige and I saw over 50 concerts last year. I took piano lessons for six years and voice lessons twice. My hope has always been to be a pastor who sings the liturgy and leads the congregation in new music. I want that to be my gift to bear to Jesus.
The problem is I can’t stay on pitch or keep a beat. I have joined choirs in the past only to realize that my inability to sing in tune was burdensome to those singing around me. I have no rhythm. I have joined bell choirs but no matter how hard I concentrate, I play my bell always a half beat behind when I should. I sang the liturgy once in a service. My senior pastor looked horrified afterward and said firmly, never do that in public again. Music is not my gift to Jesus.
However, my love for music has helped me as a pastor. I can’t sing in tune but I have got ears that smile when the music is pleasing. I can’t clap in beat, but I can choose music for worship that moves us all down to our toes, so even the most rhythmically challenged can dance. My love of music makes me a better worship leader, even though I will never be a music leader.
Who knows how God is preparing your gifts to be given to Jesus? Who knows how you will be called to fit into God’s greater plan for creation? God has been preparing our member Carolinn Shibely for years now. She has musical gifts that she has faithfully been giving to God’s church over the years. In church she has played the piano, accompanied choirs, sang in choirs and played in bell choirs. She has other gifts, too. She is an accountant and I am guessing a good one. She makes a plan, works it, follows through, checks things off, very orderly. She has management gifts, too.
When Phyllis Sneed stepped down as our Worship Chair at Messiah after years of hard work and dedication, I was in a panic. Pastors worry about how to fill the shoes of someone like Phyllis who served so wonderfully. Carolinn raised her hand, tentatively. She has done many different things in the church, but never this. She thought and prayed about it, talked to me about it and said, maybe this is the gift God has been leading me to bear to baby Jesus. Carolinn has combined her musical gifts with her accounting and management skills to serve as our Worship Chair. A new gift from God she never thought would come together like this.
You have just the right gold, frankincense and myrrh in your camel pack that Jesus needs to complete God’s plan. It’s there. All you need to do is unpack it and lay it at his feet. Your gifts were given to you by God, so that you would share them with the world in God’s church. It is part of God’s plan. Our lives are not our own. We all can fit into a larger plan, if we choose to bow down and share.
Make a 52 week promise this year to God. What is your gift? Woodworking skills taught to you by your father a long time ago that can be used at our clothing and furniture ministry warehouse? A good rapport with teens that can be used in our youth ministry? A passion for giving generously that can be vital for our Stewardship group? I know this to be true, that you have exactly the gift that God is longing to be used in our world. Yet, your gift only has real value if they are laid at his feet.
Just like the Wise Men from our story, like Carolinn Shibely, Phylis Moder, Peg Rabe, Kay Morrissey, Erni Orso, Frank Kokai and many others at Messiah, bring these gifts to Jesus. Give your gifts to Jesus, and watch with awe how God uses them in ways you could not have imagined. Make a 52 Week Promise in 2011. Don’t wade in your faith this year, but dive deep with all of us at Messiah. Amen