January 8, 2012

Second Sunday Circle Celebration

Matthew 2:1-12

The True Gifts Of The Magi: An Inquiring Mind, A Yearning Spirit, An Open Heart

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio

Rev. Allen V. Harris, pastor and preacher

To see a video of this sermon, go to: http://youtu.be/eMrqGNcT5ng

Introduction:  The True Gifts Of The Magi

Epiphany is a religious holiday celebrated in many churches.  But most of us would be more likely to know the word “epiphany” in the context of having an “aha!” moment, when we realize something.  We call such a realization, a moment, an “epiphany.”  During this season we are intentionally and eagerly expecting “aha!” moments that come from God, or manifestations of God’s presence.  It’s a season of manifestations, looking for signs of God.

The magi who saw the star offer the ultimate example of an “aha!” moment.

On one hand we are looking at God offering revelation, God revealing Godself to us.  What’s wonderful about this particular revelation is that it comes not just to the kings and magi, those who are at the “top of the heap.”  It also comes to those who do not have the same resources as others, the shepherds, the common folk.  So, in one sense epiphany is about God doing God’s work to reveal the divine self to us.

But that is only part of the equation.  We have to do our part, too.  We have to seek God and look for these “aha!” moments, these revelations.  All of us have a certain hunger for God.  Several of the songs we have heard this morning echo this hunger.  The phrase that expresses it poetically is that in every single one of us has a “God-shaped hole” in our hearts, that only God can fill. (1)

The Christmas season is all about desiring much and finding satisfaction.  Candy and gifts and parties certainly do provide a kind of satisfaction, a great kind of satisfaction!  But they do not fill that deeper hunger, longing, yearning, that is from deep within our souls, our hearts.

So we wondered if three of the magi who visited the Christ Child weren’t as interested in bringing the famous gifts, the ones they held in their hands, but, rather, gifts that were deeper, more precious, more life-changing.  Let us sing the song “We Three Kings” and see if they will show up and tell us about the very important gifts they brought the child, and to us all.

We Three Kings CH# 172

Sing Vs. 1 & Vs. 2

A Wise Woman who brings both Myrrh, but also An Inquiring Mind…

Claire Munley As The Wise Woman


I am an old woman, older than most in my village far, far east of here.  Because of my years and my experience, I am called “wise” and a “sage” by my family, friends, and neighbors.  Even so, I only know that I have seen and heard and survived much in life, and I simply try to learn from those experiences.  If others choose to call it wisdom, then so be it.

I came to this young child bearing gifts.  Many know of the gift I carried in my hands, for it has become famous in legend and ritual.  I brought a jar of the precious oleoresin called myrrh.  An oleoresin is a mixture of an essential oil and a resin, in this case the resin sap from a Commiphora Myrrha tree.  It is used in many ways: some for medicinal purposes as an antiseptic.  Some for religious purposes as incense.  Some for the joy it brings as a perfume.

I brought this gift because I understood that this child, already both celebrated and reviled as one who would change our world, would someday need it for his burial.  For you see myrrh is used most often as one of the embalming spices following the death of a loved one.  And while I certainly do not wish ill will on this one so beautiful and happy now, I know all-too-well how dangerous it is for one who challenges the principalities and powers of the world.  May he not need this gift until he is long into old age!  May it be so!

But that is not the only gift I bring.  The more important gift I bring cannot be packed on a knapsack and carried across the plains and hills.  And while it is intangible, it is more precious than this rare oleoresin: I bring to the child known as Jesus an inquiring mind.

It would be reasonable to think that one as old as I would have a set way of thinking, a head full of certainties and be set in my ways.  And while my family may say that this is the case for the most part, I have come to know that with every question answered, several more questions spring forth from it.  With every certainty come three or more dilemmas!  In fact, I have more questions now than when I was two years old and questioned everything!

So I bring an inquiring mind to this very special child.  It is clear from the very holy writings of his people, the Hebrew people, that such an inquiring mind is what their deity desires, for it was their prophet, Isaiah, who wrote:

‘Whom will he teach knowledge,

and to whom will he explain the message?

Those who are weaned from milk,

those taken from the breast?

For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept,

line upon line, line upon line,

here a little, there a little.’ (Isaiah 28:9-10)

I believe this Jesus will be a teacher and will share wisdom that is both ancient and yet brand new.  Whether from the temples of his religion or the hillsides and plains of his homeland, this Jesus will translate the words of his forbearers into life-giving and redeeming stories and instruction for his people, and, indeed, everyone.

Yes, I offer this special child the somber and foreboding gift of myrrh.  But I also offer that which will help him transform the world: an inquiring mind.

Sing Vs. 3

A King who brings Gold, but also A Yearning Spirit…

Larry Crell As The Yearning King


As you can tell from my regal attire I am royalty.  I am a king, an emperor of a far off country.  You may ask what brings a sovereign from so far away?  Well, I know power well, and I know the importance of alliances with other, perhaps even more powerful monarchs.  I came to negotiate just such a treaty with a ruler that is rumored throughout the known world as one who will not just lead a people, but all people, and will do so with a fairness and equity unimaginable in our time.  I came to make peace with a monarch who is clearly greater than I, and more just.

So you might imagine my surprise when I not only found out that the royalty to whom I wished to pay homage was a child, but a poor family’s child!  Even so, my advisors are certain of their counsel, and I’ve always done very well relying upon my own instincts, and my instincts say that this is, indeed, the king to which I was drawn.  Thus, I remain committed to collaborating with this unusual and uncommon type of royalty.  Even being in his presence, and in the presence of his family, I can feel something different, something most extraordinary.

So, as we royals do, I brought gifts with which to negotiate.  And there is no better nor more universally accepted gift than gold!  The ore that makes men and women weak, raises up and tears down nations, and can fund the movement of armies and the building of palaces.  It is beyond me to understand how nor why an infant would need such resources, but it is not mine to question.

But if I were to be completely honest, the gold which I bring, the object of songs and poems and quests, is not the most valuable gift I bring.  I have brought that which is harder to find than the deepest silver and gold in the ground, a gift more prized than the finest crown, throne, or scepter: I bring a yearning spirit.

A yearning spirit is one that still has hope that things will change, despite all evidence to the contrary.  As royalty, one who has had to fight his way to the top, sometimes at great cost to family and friends, I have every reason to be jaded, bitter, and spiteful.  Sometimes I am.  Often I am, actually.  But upon hearing of this new kind of king, this peaceful sovereign, this spiritual monarch, something deep within me has been strangely warmed.

Even the poets of this child’s heritage sing of such a yearning spirit.  In their religious book of songs they sing:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

   and put a new and right spirit within me.

Do not cast me away from your presence,

   and do not take your holy spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

   and sustain in me a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:10-12)

Yes, I bring this child offerings of expensive metals of which any monarch would envious.  But I also offer something from deep within me, a yearning spirit, more precious than gold.

Sing Vs. 4

An Astrologer brings Frankincense, but also An Open Heart.

Scott Posey As The Open Astrologer


I am an astrologer, a diviner of the stars.  I look to the heavens to discern more accurately what will happen here on earth.  I have studied many fields, and the concepts I use are built on my examination in the fields of astronomy, alchemy, meteorology, and medicine.  There is much to be learned from one like me who keeps his head in the clouds!

It was I who first noticed the appearance in the sky, a new and glorious star, foretold by our ancestors, and eagerly awaited for generations.  High in the heavens a celestial manifestation announced a new reign of justice, righteousness, and compassion had begun.  This star, unlike any other in the sky, was expected to portend the birth of a new world leader, a guide, a supreme sovereign who would change the course of history, and govern all the world, not just those bounded by culture, politics, or even religion, and rule in a manner unlike any other earthly ruler: with the end of grace and salvation as primary goals.

Because of my jubilance at recognizing such a long-awaited and glorious sign, the word of my discovery got out near and far, across the orient, as many call our lands.  It was this news that piqued the interest of many who were open to the possibility of such change coming to our world.  I had decided to caravan to follow the star, for it was said to lead hungering souls from near and far to the very place where the new ruler would be born.  And even though it would take months, perhaps years, there were others who chose to join me in my quest.  You have met two of them already, a wise woman and a king.

And one of my gifts, the third legendary gift, was frankincense.  Frankincense is an aromatic resin obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia.  It, like myrrh, is used for many purposes, but most especially in perfumery and aromatherapy.  Frankincense’s essential oils are obtained by steam distillation of the dry resin.  I brought it to the one known as the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One because such a life-changing, earth-shaking, world-renewing epiphany deserved to be recognized by all our senses.  Our world is led by too many who follow only their heads, or other less predictable body parts!  Such a ruler needs to stir the spirit as well as the mind and the body!

And in that same disposition, I brought another gift, a gift more telling and profound than any fragrant incense or sparkling mineral or jewel I could imagine.  I brought an open heart!  So many rulers demand loyalty and fealty without deserving it, without earning it.  I knew this sovereign would not have to govern with force nor logic, and certainly not bloodshed.  This one, known as Jesus Christ, would lead his followers because his words and actions and very being would be loving, kind, and deeply compelling.  It is the gift of my open heart which allows me to know that I have nothing to fear from such a ruler, even though he matches none of my expectations and no worldly ideal!

Such a matchless guide will most certainly not draw to him those who are power-hungry or selfish, for his rule will be equitable, just, and compassionate.  It will be a diverse mixture of humanity that will follow this king, and such a menagerie of the human race will require that all of his followers have open hearts.  To follow one so unconventional with such eccentric, irregular, even odd subjects and disciples will require a flexibility and an openness unheard of in all the world.  But this child will change the way the world thinks, and acts, and – most especially – will change the way we feel.

For their own holy writings proclaim:

For my house shall be called a house of prayer

   for all peoples.

Thus says the Lord God,

   who gathers the outcasts of Israel,

I will gather others to them

   besides those already gathered. (Isaiah 56:7b-8)

Yes, I bring this child the wafting aromas of frankincense to infuse his life with beauty and grace.  But I also bring an open heart so that I, and everyone else who follows the Christ child, rich and poor alike, will be ready and willing to serve him to the end.

Sing Vs. 5

(1) Go to http://parablemania.ektopos.com/archives/2006/05/pascals_apocryp.html for more accurate information about this quote.