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“The Gifts of the Wise Men”
Matthew 2:1-12


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
The Epiphany of Our Lord—January 6, 2013

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Almost all stores are closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  One of the few that is open is Walgreens, the drugstore chain.  They keep at least one store open in every city so that people will have somewhere to get prescriptions filled.

Walgreens reports that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are actually some of their busiest days of the year. But, the big rush on these holidays isn’t from people getting prescriptions filled for their winter colds and flu.  It’s from people rushing in at the very last minute, desperately trying to find Christmas gifts.  And, maybe it isn’t surprising that Walgreens reports almost all of these frantic, last minute Christmas shoppers are men.

“And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary his mother, and fell down and worshiped him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

The best gifts are thoughtful ones, gifts which really take into account the person to whom they are given.  Although it’s not actually the reason why we call them “Wise Men,” in contrast to some forgetful men today, the gifts the Wise Men brought to baby Jesus weren’t something they just hastily grabbed at Walgreens at the last minute on their way to Bethlehem.  For, the Wise Men’s gifts to the babe of Bethlehem aren’t just any gifts, but their gifts form a confession of the Wise Men’s faith in who this Babe is.

Gold is their confession that he is the King of King, worthy to wear a king’s golden crown.  As the carol says, “Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain, gold I bring to crown him again, King forever, ceasing never over us all to reign.”

Frankincense was burned in ancient temples as an offering to the gods, and so the Wise Men’s gift of frankincense is their confession that he is more than just a great king, he is God, come down to earth and made man.  As the carol says, “Frankincense to offer have I, incense owns a Deity nigh, prayer and praising, all men raising, worship Him, God on high.”

But, it is the final gift that really shows just how truly wise the Wise Men were, the depth of their theological insight and understanding.  Centuries before, the Hebrew prophet Daniel had been exiled to Babylon, where he became the chief of all the Wise Men.  Through Daniel the Wise Men of the east became acquainted with the Hebrew Scriptures, especially their promise of the coming Messiah, God’s Son, the Savior of the world.  From the Hebrew Scriptures they had learned prophecies such as Isaiah’s: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given . . . and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”  And, that is how the Wise Men know the significance of the special star: “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?  For we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him.”

Isaiah also prophesied about the Messiah: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. . .  Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.  We observed him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

Last month there was a controversy in Britain when two weeks before Christmas their largest retailer put up huge displays in all their stores of Easter baskets and cards and decorations, and chocolate eggs and other Easter candy.  Many people complained it was going too far to put out Easter merchandise even before Christmas.  The company said it was a mistake, and the displays of Easter items were taken down until after Christmas.  But, actually, there is a connection between Christmas and Easter, between Christ’s birth, and his crucifixion, death, and resurrection.  For, the babe of Bethlehem will one day trade the wood of the cradle for the wood of the cross.

“Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom; sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb.”  The final gift shows just how truly wise the Wise Men were, the depth of their theological insight and understanding.  They understood the connection between Christmas and Easter.  For, normally giving myrrh to a newborn child would be like displaying Easter items at Christmastime.  It seems out of sync, out of place, the wrong gift at the wrong time.  Because, myrrh was used in ancient times not for newborn babies at the beginning of their lives, but to anoint dead bodies for burial.  In modern terms the Wise Men essentially gave this little child a jar of embalming fluid.

But, the Wise Men’s gift of myrrh to the newborn Christ Child is not really a Christmas gift for his birth, but an Easter gift given some 30 years in advance, foretelling his death, burial, and resurrection.  The gift of myrrh is the Wise Men’s confession that they know what this newborn King is destined for; he will grow up to suffer and die for the sins of mankind.  As another carol says, “Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you.”

Epiphany reminds us again of the real meaning of Christmas.  The celebrations are over; the decorations are coming down.  Maybe we didn’t get quite what we wanted for Christmas; maybe the Christmas presents that brought us so much satisfaction just one week ago are already losing their lustre.  But the real gift and treasure of Christmas is the Holy Child of Bethlehem. 

The Good News of Christmas is that the Babe of Bethlehem was born to be your Savior.  God’s own Son came down to earth and was made man to fulfill God’s plan of salvation for you, by living a perfect life in your place, and by suffering and dying in your place upon the cross. The Good News of Christmas is that God the Father has accepted his Son’s life and death as a sacrifice on your behalf.  Your sins are all forgiven; his life, death, and resurrection makes you worthy of eternal life in heaven. 

“Behold, Wise Men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him’ . . .  And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary his mother, and fell down and worshiped him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.’”  “Glorious now behold him arise, King, and God, and Sacrifice!”

Amen.

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