Sermon January 6, 2019
Scripture Passage: Matthew 2:1-12
Bringing our Most Precious Gifts
Good morning! Epiphany Sunday is always a special and uplifting time in the Church, the first epiphany experience in a season of epiphanies. In some countries, the Epiphany is a more important celebration than Christmas. Kids leave hay in their shoes outside for the Magi’s camels, and the Magi leave them gifts in their shoes. Next Sunday, we will have another epiphany event with the Baptism of the Lord. Later, the Sunday before Lent begins, we will have another epiphany experience with the Transfiguration of the Lord. The Epiphany is a beloved story, which usually gets mixed in with the Christmas story from the other gospels in children’s pageants. This story does one of the things, which is important throughout Matthew, in that it fulfills prophecy. In this case, the story fulfills the prophets’ prophecies and a prophecy from Simeon in Luke 2 about Jesus. Jesus is destined to be a sign, which people oppose and a shepherd of the Jewish people. I loved Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor’s comment, that perhaps what is most meaningful about the epiphany, is not that it happened ‘once upon a time ago’, but that Jesus and his light still appear in wonderful ways to us, today, sometimes when we least expect it!
As you know, I’m on a bi-vocational path with nursing as my second vocation. So, I just could not help but reflect on all the ways in which nurses run into epiphany-type experiences, daily, in their field of work! For me, this is one of the biggest reasons why I love the nursing work and find it so meaningful. Sometimes we’re doing something little, like getting someone a cup of tea. Other times we might be helping them clean up and get ready for bed. Then, there are more important things, like giving them their medications or oxygen. However, perhaps the most important tasks, involve providing emotional and spiritual support. This could mean just pausing for a brief moment, looking them straight in the eye, and finding out how they are genuinely doing; this means more than just the superficial, friendly, “How are you?” Other times, it could mean reaching out with a warm hug and lending a listening ear to a family member or friend, who just lost a loved one. I believe that whether it’s something small and simple, like getting the cup of tea, or providing comfort and care at the end of life, that God is present in every situation and act of care, and it is all sacred work. As nurses, we are bringing our best, most precious gifts of compassion and care to those, who are sick or dying and their families.
The famous Magi from the East are also bringing their very best or most precious gifts to the toddler, Jesus in today’s epiphany story. It is interesting how the Magi decided to bring gold, frankincense and myrrh to the little boy, Jesus. I can understand why the wise men may have chosen these particular gifts, because I’m an advocate and distributor for essential oils, and frankincense and myrrh are still used, today, as essential oils, which have many benefits for our well-being! In fact, I regularly use frankincense oil in a diffuser, because I personally experience benefits from it for my hay-fever, asthma and respiratory conditions. Frankincense historically has provided benefits to people with respiratory conditions, as well as a host of other health issues. Myrrh also has been historically a pain killer and still is used today to relieve pain and other conditions. Gold, is obviously a precious stone, especially since it is less available, today. So, I can certainly see why the wise men decided on these 3 gifts for Jesus. They truly were bringing this special, little boy their very best, hoping to encourage good health and long life with the frankincense and myrrh and adding to his material wealth with the gold!
It is such a wonderful and happy experience, that the Magi finally pinpointed Jesus’ location, with their magical star, or their ancient GPS, and accomplished their mission in bringing these precious gifts! For the Magi, this little boy is special, because he will be an important leader for Israel. For Matthew, Jesus is also important because his arrival means the fulfillment of the prophets’ prophecies; in fact Jesus is also fulfilling Simeon’s prophecy in Luke 2, that Jesus will be a leader, who will stir up controversy in the society, as well as be like a ‘sword that pierces the souls’ of individuals. One commentator noted that the story of Simeon and Anna might also be mixed in with the wise men’s story for the children’s Christmas pageant. So, this little boy is special indeed, as the one, who will grow up to be an influential leader in Israel, stirring up everyone’s thoughts and beliefs about the status quo of their society and causing many people to break down their system of moral and ethical values and re-make them with Jesus’ radical teachings about love, justice and peace. This is the special boy, which the Magi traveled far and long to honor. They brought Jesus frankincense and myrrh in hopes that he would have good health, wellness and longevity as this powerful and loving leader. They brought him gold, to ensure his financial well-being and honor him. The Magi also acted in a fatherly way toward the little boy, Jesus, in making sure they returned home to their countries in the East by a different, secret route, so that they would avoid King Herod and keep Jesus’ whereabouts a secret, since they had a nightmare about Herod wanting to kill this little boy. So, the Magi had this wonderfully uplifting experience of visiting the little boy, Jesus, and experiencing some of his light, love and joy! They also had the satisfaction of giving this little boy their very best gifts, which they believed would take care of this special, future leader, who would lead Israel and the rest of the world toward a path of justice, peace and love.
In our world of nursing, each of those small or big acts of caring for our patients and their families also can lead to epiphany-like experiences, when we see that our actions actually led the patients or families toward a path with more justice, peace and love. This week, we sadly lost one of the elderly residents at my nursing facility. However, because one of the CNAs or Certified Nurse Assistants, paused to talk with the resident’s roommates, who had no clue of what had happened to him, and spent some time providing emotional and spiritual support to them, the roommates were able to process their sadness and grief in a better way and hang in there. It’s always tough on the other residents, when someone passes away, because they are also very sick or elderly. So, the CNA taking the time to talk with them and give them a warm hug and wishes for peace, hopefully made a difference in how they grieved over the loss of their roommate and friend. Hopefully, they experienced a glimpse of the little boy, Jesus’ light, love and peace, which he gave to the Magi in that first epiphany experience. At the very least, they did experience God’s presence, compassion and peace for them through the CNA’s respect and care for them.
I think that my stories about the nursing work have much relevance for the Church and what God calls us to do as Christians, especially as Deacons and Elders. Deacons are called to visit the sick, elderly, and needy and provide them with emotional, spiritual and practical support. Elders are called to provide counsel and emotional and spiritual support to the members, whenever needed. As a part of our ordination or installation of Deacons and Elders, we ask that they promise to share the love and justice of Jesus Christ. All members are called to share the love and Word of Jesus Christ with others. So, actually there is much overlap between the nursing work and the work of church leaders and members! We have some very caring, wonderful Deacons and very caring, wise Elders in this church, and many caring members, so I hope that you will be inspired by the nursing stories and the story of the Magi to help people today, to continue having those epiphany experiences of God’s light and love, as Pastor Barbara Brown Taylor said!
May we be Christians and a church, who continue to share in small and big ways, the light, love and peace of Jesus, so that the Epiphany is not just a nice, ancient story, but one that continues to have relevance because people are still having revelations of Jesus’ presence and light! Amen.