|Last Look Towards Milford by Jocelyn Kinghorn on Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0|
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
Here in church we confess our sins. I confess that I have, at times, committed the sin of re-gifting.
It starts with that gift that’s really nice, but you have no use for it: like a gift card to that restaurant where you got food poisoning; a sweater that’s two sizes too small; or a scented candle that makes you sneeze. So why not regift it?
Our president does!
Recently, Donald Trump, Jr. told a reporter that his father frequently regifts the items that were monogrammed for him. One Christmas, the president gave Donald Jr. the very same monogrammed Donald Jr. gave him the year before. The president insisted that his son was mistaken, but Donald Jr. said, “I know you didn’t get this—because I gave it to you last year!”
This makes me wonder what Mary and Joseph were thinking when the Magi gave them gold, frankincense, and myrrh…
Several times last month, I heard the line that if the wise men were actually women, they would’ve brought diapers, casseroles, and offered to babysit. These would’ve been the most practical gifts. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were so extravagant as to be practically impractical…
But Epiphany isn’t about gold, frankincense, and myrrh. At Epiphany, we celebrate the gift of relationship—and God wastes no time in bringing people into a relationship with the one who was born to be Emmanuel—God with us. The shepherds were sent by God’s angels. The Magi came by the leading of a star. And it wouldn’t be going out on a limb to think that relatives and perfect strangers would’ve been there as well. From this point forward, their lives will never be the same. They have seen the living God. When they return to their homes and their communities, they will have an amazing story to tell. People are going to see the living God in them.
Let’s not forget that the beginnings of Jesus life were fraught with danger—but God’s gifts sustained them. Despite all the dangers, toils, and snares, God gave them people who showed them God’s love, shared in their joy, and encouraged their faith.
As for the gold, frankincense, and myrrh, it may not have been very useful at first. But soon, Mary and Joseph will be forced to flee to Egypt once they learn that King Herod is determined to kill Jesus. These treasures will go a long way to finance the journey, young family sheltered and secure.
This is good news for us as we turn the page on a new year—with all its hopes and uncertainties of ahead of us.
You may be wondering: what’s going to happen? Will there be even more chaos in our country? Will there be a terrorist attack or mass shooting? What will my life be like a year from now? Will I still have a job? Will my health decline? Will my loved ones still be here? Will I still be here?
The pain of yesterday and the worry of tomorrow can be so powerful as to overwhelm you. You may find yourself in a situation like Mary and Joseph: far from home, in way over your head, with the weight of the world on your shoulders. You may find yourself in a situation like the shepherds—destitute and despised by nearly everyone. You may find yourself like the baby Jesus—fragile and vulnerable, facing down all the evil powers of this world.
But God will give you the gifts you need to get you through.
So when you’re destitute and despairing, stop and take a couple of deep breaths—and remember. God is never absent; it is only our focus that is absent from God. Yet God’s love and God’s gifts are always there. Much of the time, God’s gifts are given by human hands. Keep yourself rooted in the Word and Sacraments, and you will see the face of Jesus reflected in the people who love you. And when necessary, God will resort to miraculous means so that you and others will see the salvation of Jesus.
And you can turn the page on a new year with the hopeful expectation that no matter how many troubles come your way, the outpouring of God’s gifts will be even greater.
Be prepared for God to lead you to people, just as God led the Magi to the baby Jesus. Your love and your gifts may very well be the answer to their prayers; the treasure that literally saves their life. You will be overwhelmed with joy as you witness the power of God’s love at work.
I can’t tell you whether or not you will remember 2019 as a gift. But I can promise you what God promises you—that no matter where God leads you on your life’s journey, God’s gifts will take you there—and God’s love will meet you there.