Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Giving Gifts to the Giver

Advent Midweek 2
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Matthew 2:1-12

The Gospel account of the Magi is always designated for the festival of Epiphany, which comes after Christmas. The event occurred after Christ was born, so that makes sense. But since our Midweek Advent worship services are based on the Quempas Carol, we have this passage before us now.

It’s actually a very helpful thing for us to take a look at it before Christmas. One of the foremost things on people’s minds at this time of year is gift giving and receiving. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. But it can be a distraction. If presents become more exciting than what we’re celebrating at Christmas then we’ve got a problem.

We learn from the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus about gift giving and receiving. There are two key ideas here which help us understand what gift giving and receiving is all about. The first is “worship” and the second is “gifts”.

Both of these ideas seem pretty straight forward, and I suppose, when it comes down to it, they really are. What makes them stand out in the Word of God is who is doing the giving and who is doing the receiving. Or maybe another way of saying it is, why is there giving and receiving going on?

When the Magi come to Jesus to worship Him they are giving something to Him, right? They are worshiping Him. They are in a sacrificial position, of kneeling, of bowing down before Him as King. When they give Him the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they are giving Him gifts, right? So Jesus is the one receiving here. He’s the recipient of worship and gifts.

So far so good. They recognized that He was a very special king and so they acted accordingly. They paid homage to Him and presented Him with gifts.

The problem is that we tend to think of this whole situation in the same way that we do with our giving and receiving of gifts at Christmas. It’s completely different. There are similarities. But we’re giving gifts to people that are just like we are, ordinary human beings. The Magi were honoring and giving gifts to a human being who was God. He was not even just a king but the very King of Kings.

The Magi weren’t the primary gift givers here. Sure, their gifts were more immaculate than what most of us could give. But the point in all of this isn’t what the Magi were doing, but what they had received. They were first and foremost the recipients of a gift from the very one they were honoring. It might seem odd that the baby Jesus would be able to give a gift to these men. He, after all, was truly a newborn human being; in need of a lot of care and attention from His parents. But the gift was there in the flesh—Jesus Christ is Himself His gift to all people.

While here at the beginning of His life Gentiles recognized the Gift that was before them, so at the end of His life, while hanging on the cross, another Gentile, the Centurion, also worshiped Him, proclaiming at Jesus’ death: “Truly this was the Son of God.” And there’s your gift, all wrapped up in this one package of the flesh of Jesus Christ. Born and suffering. Laying in a manger and hanging on a cross. Receiving the worship of men because they received His life-giving Spirit.

We are first and foremost recipients of the Gift of Gifts. Jesus is the King of Kings and does deserve our worship and honor. But He didn’t do what He did because we have honored Him so. He did what He did because He is the Giver of good gifts. He gave life at the creation of the world, He gave new life at the cross. He gives us sustaining hope, even as He has risen from the grave, in our Baptism, in His Supper, in the spoken Absolution and the proclaimed Gospel.

In our giving of gifts to each other we can get a sense of what we receive from God. When someone who loves you gives you something you have a tangible measure of that in the gift they gave you. And that hopefully is why we also give gifts to those we love. So our gift giving and receiving is a good thing because ultimately it’s a reminder to us of the tangible way God loves us. He gives us His Son. He gave us His Son at the first Christmas, He gives us His Son in our Baptism, and He gives us His Son in His Holy Supper.

This is why we worship Him. We know who Jesus is. The Magi knew He was a king. We know that He is the King of Kings. We know He is the King of every good gift, especially of Himself. The Magi had spectacular gifts to bring Him. So do we. Ourselves. He created us, after all. He, after all, gave us new life. In Him we live and move and have our being. We love because He first loved us. So also whatever we offer Him is because He has first offered Himself to us so that we may live with Him forever. Amen.


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