An Epiphany Devotional

 

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Matthew 2:1-12

epihanyGifts. They’re an important part of the story of the Magi. In fact, I’m pretty sure where we get our tradition of exchanging Christmas presents directly from the gifts that the Magi brought to Jesus.

A lot of pastors (myself included) have preached plenty on the symbolism of each of the gifts the Magi brought. But this year, as I read over this story, I was taken by the act itself and the meaning therein. They came to present Jesus with gifts.

Well, sort of. According to their conversation with Herod, the Magi came to worship Jesus. We’re not entirely sure where these guys started from… “the east” is a little vague, after all, but we can be reasonably sure it was a long, long trip and probably not all that comfortable.

They went well out of their way, at their own expense and peril, to come and worship the newborn king of Israel. And when they found him, they did just that. They bowed down before Him and presented Him with gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.

As far as we know, they got nothing in return. If they did, the whole affair wouldn’t mean the same. There was no treaty signing. No exchange of gifts. The Bible doesn’t even record their names or countries of origin. So why do it?

It doesn’t make sense from a practical stand point. But this isn’t a practical matter. It’s a matter of the heart. It’s an act of reverence. It is worship in a very pure form – an act recognizing and acknowledging who God is and who we are.

The way we usually do Christmas presents can often stray pretty far from gift-giving. Children are taught that if they are good, they will get presents. If not, they won’t. Santa even has spies perched on the shelves of many a home these days, enforcing the lesson that if you’re good, you get gifts.

That isn’t really how gifts work, you know. If you have to earn it, it’s a reward or a salary. Gifts are freely given without conditions or strings. Gifts are a way that we show someone what they mean to us; who they are to us.
God’s gifts to us are the free act of His love toward us. He doesn’t owe us anything. But we’re His children, and that’s how a loving Father acts. He show us He’s our loving Father in countless ways everyday. Literally every good thing we have comes from His hand.

At some level, I think we get this. When I was making my Christmas shopping list, I definitely did not give equally to everyone I know. The gifts I gave to my friends, to my distant relatives, to my close family, to my son and to my wife were all quite different.

If you’ve ever been dating someone during the holidays, you probably had a conundrum on your hands… What kind of gift shows that right level of commitment and care, without disappointing her or scaring her off?

This is why we are able to make use of the Magi’s story. The gifts they gave reflected who they thought Jesus would be… a king, yes, and probably much more. Israel was not in a place of great prominence on the world stage at this time. The Jews were captive to the Roman empire. The birth of a new Caesar would be front-page news; the birth of the king of the Jews would barely merit reporting.

But these men traveled from afar, and presented this newborn king with costly and majestic gifts. That’s whom they believed Jesus to be – a king with worshiping.

I think we could learn something about worship from these Magi. Sometimes, I think, we approach worship as if we’re doing God a favor – and one He should be grateful for! We attend church when it isn’t too hard to fit in. We put a little money in the plate. That’s better than nothing, right?

Well… I suppose it is. But the act of worship is recognizing and acknowledging who God is to us. It isn’t meant to be a grudging tradition that we do because God expects it. If that’s what it is, then our worship says to God, “You are someone I’d rather not have to deal with, but I’ll give you the bare minimum to keep you off my back.”

I don’t think that’s how many of us feel about God – or at least, we don’t think we feel that way. So, what would a Sunday look like if it was going to communicate that God is someone we love, that we need, that we trust? What sort of gifts could we bring to say, “God, you are the most important thing in my life?” How would our singing, our praying, our hallway conversations be changed if our intention for coming to church was to bow down before our king?

We get that opportunity every time we gather in God’s house. Not just on Epiphany, every week. As we begin 2017, let’s make this a year to “Come and Behold Him, Christ the Lord!”

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