“PART OF THE GIFT”
-a sermon preached by Terry McGinley 1-6-2019 Pardeeville
(Galatians 4:4-7 and Matthew 2:1-12)
A young girl in Africa heard that her teacher would be leaving their village. That girl wanted to give her teacher a special gift but did not have any money to buy a present. But she figured out a way to get a gift. She presented her teacher with a shell she had found on the beach. It was perhaps the most beautiful shell anyone in the village had ever seen. Her teacher asked the girl, “Where did you find such a beautiful shell?” When the girl admitted where she had found the shell, her teacher was deeply touched because it was far away. The girl had walked many miles to get the shell. The teacher said to her student, “You didn’t have to walk so far away to find me a present.” But the girl smiled at her teacher when she admitted, “The journey is part of the gift.”
was impressed by the way it opened. “When the fulfillment of the time came.” Other translations choose the words “when the right time had finally come” or “when the fullness of time had come”. I attended a continuing education event in 2006 and learned a thing or two about time. At that event, we talked about various methods of meditation, that is to say, taking the time to be in God’s presence and to let God speak to us. The presenter referred to this process as “wasting time gracefully”. She introduced everyone to two different Greek words that mean “time”. The first one, and the kind of time we live in most of our lives, is called chronos. That’s the time that rules our lives. What time is it? Am I on time? How much time do I have left? The other word was kairos which is translated as “the right time”. So when I hear the words “when the fulfillment of the time came”, I can get a sense of how long the chosen people waited for the coming of the Messiah and, even though it meant waiting for centuries, it also meant that God had acted at the right time, at the appropriate time.
There’s another way to look at the words chronos and kairos. Chronos is our time. Kairos is God’s time. And I think we struggle with the difference. Seems we would always like God to act sooner! But, as with everything else, God sent Jesus into the world at the right time. And, as with everything else, when God reveals something about God, humanity seeks to find a way to respond. That’s a key aspect of the reformed faith. God reveals. We respond. We have had our four weeks of Advent preparation time and expectation. We have experienced the joy of Christmas Eve and celebrated Christmas Day. We’ve talked a bit about possible responses to God’s gift. Now it’s time to do something about it!
Today, we greet the final players in the nativity story of Jesus. They have much to tell us yet there are so many parts of the story that we have questions about. Who exactly were the magi? Were they kings? Were they astrologers? Were they magicians? And what about the star? What did it look like? Was it really bright? How did it point the way to the stable in Bethlehem?
Lots of questions and I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have any answers. These and other questions about this story in the Bible will continue to be investigated. Theories will continue to be put forth. For me, I think these three were astrologers. They studied the stars. If that makes them wise men, so be it. They somehow found messages revealed in the things they saw in the heavens. Some say the star was the convergence of three planets and shone very brightly. That makes the story a bit more special for us today. But what if the star was not something spectacular to all but something especially noteworthy to those who studied the stars? What if the wise men in our story today noticed something special when they looked at the night sky? Something only an astronomer would understand? Whatever it was, they interpreted this heavenly sign as the announcement of a new king in Israel. And they deemed it so important that they did not want to miss it. They set out on a journey to the Holy Land to see for themselves. In fact, they headed straight for Jerusalem because, after all, isn’t that where one would seek the king of the Jews?
An old joke asks, “Why did the Wisemen show up twelve days late?” Because they were men and didn’t stop to ask directions! Actually, they did ask directions. But they asked the wrong guy! They approached the palace in Jerusalem, went right up to Herod who WAS the king of the Jews at the time, and asked where the NEW king was. They’re lucky they weren’t dealt with severely right then and there! The wise men soon learned that the current king of the Jews suffered from both paranoia and delusions of grandeur. Their question worried Herod and when Herod was worried, everyone in Jerusalem got nervous. No one knew what to expect when Herod was worried about something. In the Epiphany story, we get a glimpse into how Herod operated. He appears to be willing to help the wise men find who they’re looking for. He goes to the trouble to gather together all of his advisors. They identify Bethlehem as the town where this event will take place. But Herod then has this secret meeting with the wise men. He tries to find out everything he can about the star, when it appeared and how it had guided them thus far. King Herod asked a lot of questions and I think that, even by the time the wise men left Herod’s palace for Bethlehem, they realized this guy was goofy. They understood that Herod’s offer to come and worship the child was not sincere. So when an angel appeared to them and encouraged the wise men to go home by another route, it was an easy decision to make.
When they left Herod, the star appeared again and reminded these astrologers of the reason for their journey. It is the journey that strikes me as the most important part of this story. Actually, it is BOTH journeys…the journey to worship the Christ child and the journey home by a different route. The wise men saw something in the heavens that intrigued them. They packed up and left their homeland. Some say they may have been travelling for two years or more to get to Israel, following a star that guided them. They weren’t sure of the exact spot the journey would end. They didn’t know how long they would be gone. They had no clue as to any obstacles they might encounter on the way. But they went. They persevered. They found the baby they were looking for and then offered him the gifts they had brought with them.
The second journey they took, the one back home, has great significance also. There were some political factors involved in this decision but one could argue that, after seeing Jesus, those three men had been changed and so they set out on a different journey because of it. Once we come to know Christ, regardless of the way it happens, we will never be the same either!
The word “journey” can be applied to so many things. Our journey through the year 2019 has begun. This is the time of year when we build on the events of the previous years of our lives. It’s a time of hopes and resolutions, of new goals and new beginnings. It’s a time to look past all of the things that are not as we wish they were and move toward the new future that God has secured for us in the birth of Jesus Christ. It’s time to be aware of the journey that God has asked us to embark upon. And as we continue on the journey we began in Advent, we are confident that God will provide what we need at the right time, Kairos time…because God is very good at Kairos time. At the beginning of a year, we consider not only our personal journeys but also our corporate journey as a community of faith. What we seek is the answer to the question “What is God calling our church to be and to do?” That’s the star we will follow on our journey. That’s the focus of all this, the driving force behind our journey. We should take notice of things that are significant, things that will help us zero in on God’s plan for our church.
We have all the hope and anticipation that turning the page on a new calendar year brings. We have trust in god to lead us. So we no longer have to concentrate only on the things of the past. Some of what we have done will undoubtedly come along with us. What we look for is the future that lies ahead of us. There are some things that, like it or not, we need to realize about our journey. We cannot be absolutely certain where this journey is going to take us. Frankly, that’s part of the excitement in following where God leads. In the same way, no one can know how long our journey will last. But the instant we come to understand where God is leading our church, we’ll rejoice in much the same way the wise men did when they saw their star.
Also, it’s going to be okay to ask for directions once in a while. I’m not sure what forms that might take. One thing is for sure…we must be willing to share what God reveals with each other…maybe even with those outside of our community of faith and, above all, listen to each other in conversations. We need to build into this process some times of reflection so that we can know, to the best of our abilities, that we are headed the right way. And we must be willing to trust that God will accompany us on our journey and that God will guide us to the place we seek.
We have journeyed as a community of faith for a long time already. And in each part of our journey, God has revealed God’s plan. Now we seek to begin our next journey as a caring community of God’s people. It’s going to be different from any other journey that we’ve taken in the past. The destination may be someplace we have never been. But it will be a destination of God’s choosing. Once we arrive where God is calling us to go, the gifts we’ll offer to God are going to be our faithful responses. Right now, the journey is part of the gift! Thanks be to God!