This is the sermon James preached on 3rd Jan 2021. Epiphany. Matthew 2.1-12. Expect Magi.
What did you get for Christmas?
We would usually have gathered as a big Clan Gathering but alas, so we decided that instead of me buying a present for my brother-in-law, for example, that I would buy a present for myself and say that it was from him!
Hence the Christmas jumper! It is I think the best present he’s ever given me! I love it! He gave me a running jacket some years back – I was far too fat to put it on.
What do presents say about the Giver, the Receiver?
Its dangerous to read too much into it – we should factor in things like – the budget, the shops available at the time.
But some presents say “I think you need this”- a useful tool.
Other presents say “I saw this and thought of you”.
Other presents say – “this was on sale so I brought it and didn’t know who to give it to” in which case you might not want to read too much into it!
What did you give for Christmas?
I gave a tea-towel to some people. I wonder what they will read into that.
I gave my siblings a box of loo roll. 24.
I warned them in advance that they would be getting a totally crap present in the post. And it led to the most peculiar conversations ever until one sister got it and then she started laughing which made the others very confused.
I should add at this point that there is a company that provides ecologically sustainable toilet toll and the name of this company is Who Gives A Crap.
So when we look at the presents from the Magi we read into it how they see the recipient. These are not especially – ‘You need this’ but perhaps more along the lines of ‘I saw this and thought of you’.
So Gold for a King, Frankincense (misnomer – but never mind) for worship – for a deity , and Myrrh – for the day of sorrow – I’m not entirely sure about the Myrrh, different scholars say different things but it is an incense and one of its uses is for funerals.
So there you have it. Jesus the King, who is God, and who will die for our sins.
What does God’s present of Jesus have to say about us?
Lets try: “I saw this cute Mug and I thought of you.” That’s a nice mug, thank you.
“I saw this cute Jesus and I thought of you” – no. that doesn’t quite work. The gift of Jesus to us isn’t Cute.
It might be cute in Primary Schools at nativity plays but it isn’t cute.
Try: “I saw this useful tea-towel and I wondered if you could use it” – becomes: “I saw this useful Jesus and I wondered if you could use it” – okay that’s a bit better but its still confusing. Here’s the idea of Jesus as Something Useful. One day you might be glad of this. Keep it somewhere near.
Ok now try –“we’ve had a totally rubbish year, you are definitely going to need this loo roll” – that becomes –
We’ve had a totally rubbish year, you are definitely going to need Jesus.
Ok that works.
God doesn’t give us Jesus because its Cute. He gives us Jesus because its Dark, because of the sorrow and oppression He sees, because of the cries and tears of prayer that go up, because we need saving.
Disney for years has made this the key story. The Princess is locked up and needs a Prince to save her. That sort of thing. Its good to see that more recent Disney Movies have the Princess doing the saving. What we’ve forgotten was that in all those movies – we, humanity, we are the princess, we are the bride, and we’re in a pickle and we need rescuing.
Our reaction to the birth of Jesus – should not be – Oh, that’s Cute. Or Oh that’s kind and thoughtful. Or even Oh what a lovely expensive gift.
Our reaction should be either –
Oh Crap! Just how bad is it that you think I need this gift?
Or it should be: Thank God, at last!
Its as if you bought me a years subscription to Slimming World!
My reaction should either to be very insulted – I’m not that fat, I’m not that lost, not that trapped in sin and darkness.
Or it should be – Thank God at last – someone giving me what I don’t have the courage to get for myself.
The Gift of Jesus is really quite an insult.
Or its really quite amazing.
The Magi decide that it is amazing. They come and worship him.
I was wondering why does Matthew tell us this? There’s lots of stories about Jesus, only some of them got written down.
I’m glad he wrote this one down because it is the reminder that Everyone is welcome.
Yes we get that with the shepherds – but they are smelly, poor bedraggled Insiders – they are really part of the family of God – they’re just a forgotten part. Its good that they get included.
But the Magi – no one would have thought of including them. The Christmas story goes fine without them.
But the Magi are total outsiders. People who have no clue about the bible or church or when to sit or stand or anything – that’s what’s brilliant about the online telly stuff – people have been able to get a glimpse of what we get up to on Sundays.
And we forget that we are outsiders. We are gentiles. We live along way from Bethlehem. And the guiding star that brought the goodnews to us came via Africa.
But these Magi – they tell us that we too are welcome to come and worship.
And the Magi remember are scientists. When I do grill a vicar in secondary, as well as primary schools – I still get asked about Faith verses Science – its infuriating –
the idea that either you believe or you have faith.
I don’t know when it started – Don’t blame Darwin, you could I suppose blame a section of the American church, post war for making such a farce of their own faith so that this is still a question that kids are asking 70 years later.
It is science that leads the Magi to explore further, to enquire, and it brings them to worship.
Don’t be afraid of Science.
Be afraid of Herods. Of those with power who fear, who feel threatened.
And there will be times when you will feel that your faith is threatened. But I think it will help if you can just pause for a moment, breathe, worship, and just check to see if this is about persecution and pain or if this is just about me getting on my hobby horse.
Today is a good day to give thanks to God for Scientists.
To give thanks to God for being so inclusive, – may we learn to be as inclusive.
To give thanks to God for all the presents you’ve had over Christmas – even the rubbish ones – and to try not to read too much into them. And to thank God for the Givers!
And it is a good day to respond to the gift of Jesus.
Is it a massive insult. Am I really that lost, that in need of a saviour?
Or It is a wonderful joy – that breathes love and hope into our faith – and we’re going to need that this year. Amen.