Please, be seated.
We are here on a very confusing day in our church calendar. Technically, we are still in the season of Christmas. Remember those twelve days of Christmas? Today is day #11. Hey! Where are my 11 pipers piping?
The celebration of Epiphany is this Tuesday, January 6th. Epiphany is the Feast Day which celebrates God the son as a human being in Jesus Christ. In our Western Christian culture it commemorates the visit of the magi as told in today’s gospel.
In our secular world, we are just recovering from New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Parties, celebrations, football!
And in our own spiritual community here at St. Michael’s we are anxious about the news from the Search Committee that some candidates for the position of our new rector will coming to Albuquerque soon to check us out and to be checked out.
I think today as we wrap up Christmas and head into Epiphany and head into a new year with anticipation, I’d like to think about giving one more gift.
Baby Jesus - pa rum pa pum pum
I am a poor child too - pa rum pa pum pum
I have no gift to bring - pa rum pa pum pum
That’s fit to give a king - pa rum pa pum pum
Rum pa pum pum, rum pa pum pum
Shall I play for you - pa rum pa pum pum
On my drum
We all know Christmas doesn’t technically start until Christmas Day and then we’ve got twelve full days to celebrate the birth of the Sweet Little Baby Jesus. However, that is hard to do in our society. We are force fed Christmas carols in every grocery and big box store since a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. Retailers try to get us to buy everything under the sun for our gift giving on Christmas Day. Then they are done with Christmas once all the paper wrapping has been ripped to shreds. It’s hard to maintain the Christmas spirit all through the 12 days of Christmas when the Walgreen’s just down 4th Street has already started displaying heart-shaped boxes of candy for Valentine’s Day.
But in today’s gospel, we heard about those people from the east – wise ones, sages, magi, astrologers – who came to worship Jesus and presented him with priceless treasures: gold as a precious metal, frankincense as perfume or incense, and myrrh as an anointing oil. All these gifts were the perfect things to offer a king.
Our Christmas gift giving is probably complete. But let’s think about one more gift (or maybe even several more gifts) we can give. What gifts can we give to our Savior?
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man,
I would do my part.
Yet what I can, I’ll give Him.
Give Him my heart.
Both of the songs I referenced today refer to the singer as being “poor.” I feel somewhat hypocritical standing up here and singing those lyrics. I freely admit I have enough money to buy a really spiffy gift for Jesus. But we have talked (and talked and talked and talked) about monetary gifts to our church during our stewardship campaign. That is a very important part of what we do here at St. Michael’s. And I encourage all of us to constantly think about the financial treasures we can share with our church home to do the work God has given us to do.
But today I am talking about giving of ourselves. And in that respect we probably all are a little poor. These gifts are often called time and talent. What do we, as children of God – as individuals with unique talents – have to offer as a gift to our new-born Savior?
I am going to share a story which I think embodies the true meaning of giving a gift. A couple of weeks before Christmas, I joined part of my faith community who attends St. Chad’s Church. Fr. Brian Winter asked us to share with each other stories about the Christmas gift we had received which meant the most to us – and to also talk about the gift we had given which meant the most.
I will admit I was somewhat stumped by the assignment. Off the top of my head I couldn’t think about a significant gift to share. And then it hit me. The gift I had received which meant the most to me, only meant that much in retrospect.
It was 1966. I was 5 years old. I received a Barbie doll.
A Barbie doll.
I don’t remember asking for a doll or even expressing interest in one. But quite obviously I had because it is a fact that in 1966 – in Hannibal, Missouri – no parents would have thought “Gee….I’ll bet our 5 year-old son would love a Barbie doll for Christmas. What a great gift idea for a little boy.” I am not sure 50 years later there are many parent who would do such a thing.
But my loving parents, supportive of their son - who was clearly thinking outside the box way back then - got me a Barbie doll. I imagine it was not an easy purchase for them to make or an easy gift for them to give. But the photos of that Christmas show me with a big smile on my face holding up that doll by the Christmas tree.
A true gift isn’t something the giver wants to give. A true gift is something the receiver really wants to get.
What does Jesus want from us?
The magi, we are told, brought gifts fit for a king. What gift do we have that could possibly measure up?
Give Jesus yourself. (And I’m not talking about saying a few words about accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior. I’m not saying that is a bad thing. Go for it. But I suspect Jesus would appreciate some concrete actions to back up those words.)
Whatever you are doing right now – do more. If you aren’t doing much – or doing anything – then maybe this sounds like an easy opportunity for you. If you are already doing a lot for your church and for the good of all humankind, then this might be a little tough for you. (However, I suspect it’s exactly the other way around.)
I am not standing up here and saying that it isn’t important to spend time on yourself or with your family and friends. Those are very important things to do for your well-being. But giving a gift which truly means something should not be easy as clicking an item on someone’s wish list on Amazon.com and having it shipped to their address.
I want us all to give Jesus a gift that truly means something.
I can’t tell each of you what your gift should be. But a good place to start is always prayer. Pray about what you might give as a gift to Jesus. And renew your prayer life – even in small increments each day.
Do something which will enhance your spiritual life. Join a Bible study. What’s that you say? Don’t know of any? Then start a Bible study! Read a book about a Christian subject. Share it with a friend. Discuss it with a friend. Start a book group.
Do something to help your church. Become a servant of worship. Decide to overcome your fear of standing at the front of the church and become an acolyte. Join the altar guild. Volunteer at the food pantry. Become a Eucharistic visitor.
Do something that will help humankind – something to spread the love of God into the world. Volunteer for a charity. Start a charity. Visit that person in your neighborhood who doesn’t have any family close by. Tutor! Mentor! Get involved.
And while I’m being your personal shopper for a gift, let me offer a suggestion of something Jesus probably doesn’t want. Don’t complain – about anything! If you see something that isn’t right or isn’t to your liking – do something about it. Jesus wants us to be doers. Jesus wants us to get out there, roll up our sleeves, and get our hands dirty.
And no one is a mind reader. If you need help with something – ask for it. As I told my mother earlier this week: sometimes giving a gift is the act of accepting a gift.
I believe Jesus calls us to listen to each other and buy a little boy a Barbie doll. I believe Jesus calls us attempt to help the person in line at the Quick Trip who might not smell so good and who needs an extra dollar to purchase a bottle of water. I believe Jesus calls us to feel intimidated and afraid and nervous as we venture into the world to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, tend the sick, visit those in prison and alone, talk to the marginalized.
Give til it hurts.
Make your gift mean something by giving of yourself. Give of yourself by giving your time and your talent.
Were the whole realm
Of nature mine
That were an offering
Far too small
Love so amazing
Demands my soul,
My life my all.