Gifts of the Magi
December 21, 2003
Come in. Come in to the glow of candles. Come in to the gathering of the faithful. Come in among your friends. From near and far, come in and be welcome.
We come together to see, and go out again to be and to become: to become different than we were. We come and go in the goodness of faith.
This is the night we say to one another: Come in. This is the night we say, too, to the Creator God, the God of Love: Come in. Come in, God; come into the world to remind us who you are and who we are.
Come in, God; come into a world that has forgotten the true meaning of itself.
Come in, God; come into a world that does not want to forget Love.
Come in, God; however far you have to come, come in and be welcome.
Christmas time is a time of giving. God gave his son to humanity as a gift to all. We give of ourselves as our gift to God.
This church brings a unique gift to the world near and far. It is the gift of the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.
Tonight we tell the beginning of the story of God's great adventure of being one of us.
Tonight we welcome God to the world . . . as one of us.
Tonight we offer God a cradle, to begin the journey of being one of us.
By being one of us, God made it possible for all of us to be us.
In that spirit, let us give welcomes all around. Please greet your neighbors.
The story of God's becoming human is rooted in Jewish faith. For centuries, the prophets of the Israelites promised a Messiah, a savior, a king--and what they got was not what anyone expected.
Just as God could not be confined to heaven, the Messiah could not be confined to any one people. As the distance between the spiritual and the earthly collapsed, as grace and protection flowed in upon humanity, the people who knew about it first were not the ones anyone would have expected.
Simple, illiterate shepherds heard the symphony of the spheres and understood. And three astrologers from far away, foreigners, Gentiles, people outside the promise of the prophecy (or so it was believed) saw that heaven had hung its lamps in a new order, and they came looking for a king. Gentiles came to look for the Jewish king. What an extraordinary thing! Foreigners came to give gifts fit for a king--the best they had--to one who was not even theirs (or so it was believed).
Magi--who at other places in the Scriptures are called sorcerers, enchanters, magicians, wizards, and blasphemers; who are thought to be manipulators of nature, not readers of heaven--magi got the message. And what a message! They understood that the world was able now to say to God, "Come in." Magicians connecting life with faith were birthed as "Wise Ones."
We tell the Christmas story this year through the eyes of these three magi to remind us that one of the tenets of this church is to welcome all people. The magi will speak of their gifts, and the correspondence of their gifts to the natural world according to Emanuel Swedenborg. The three magi make a long journey guided by mystery, having no doubt they will see a king, and finding something that was not what anyone expected: God, born as a baby. What an extraordinary thing!
On this extraordinary night, come in and hear the story, the great love story: the story of the birth of a child.
Magus of Gold
We bring the gift of gold: the goodness of love--a gift of the celestial heaven, where angels love the Lord.
We are awash in goodness. "Good." Doesn't it seem a simple word for what love becomes in the world? But God spoke it at the beginning of time, at the beginning of creation: "It is good." It is good--it flows from love, made from the stuff of love, and we see the true character of love shining in the soft metal of gold--one of the most valued items on earth, and no wonder. We know its inner reality, its true identity, its soul: the good of love.
How do we give a gift to the highest king? We give the best we have to offer. We bring the gift of the goodness of love, because love is only good, and all that is good begins in love. Love has decided to let us begin . . . again. The very thing that began us, lets us start over and over and over--and how can we not be grateful, and give back our best?
The story is spoken from the celestial heaven. Indeed, the story begins in heaven as a love story. God, who is Love, and to whom the celestial angels give their first love, sends a message to earth. God's message appears from heaven calling out to all of us through one young woman who is asked to believe love, to trust love, to fall madly in love, knowing that her love originates with and pours out of the very Source of all that is.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you."
But she was much perplexed by his words, and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"
The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God."
Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.
Magus of Frankincense
We bring the gift of frankincense: the goodness of faith--a gift of the spiritual heaven, where angels love their neighbors.
In faith, our prayers rise to heaven on billows of incense, the stuff of worship, of paying attention, of spending time, of being fully present. We are faithful with each other. We travel together, as all life journeys are made in the company of others. We learn to trust and to be trustworthy of each other, sharing our faith in what we seek.
"Good": so simple a word that the Creator of all-that-is finds it just right at the beginning of time. "It is good," says the Divine One when making hillsides and sheep and shepherds.
How do we give a gift to the highest king? We give the best we have to offer. We bring the gift of the goodness of faith. Faith--that we know and trust and believe, and therefore act. We come together to see, and go out again to be and to become; to become different than we were before. We come and go in the goodness of faith.
The story is spoken from the spiritual heaven, and sent in faith. We bring frankincense to sweeten the senses, to remind us of the goodness of faith, as all things good are offspring of love.
We have here the offspring of love in a child--a holy child--and the story told from heaven calls the neighbors away from their flocks to pay attention. The heavens share the good news among the many, and tell ordinary people that this is no ordinary God who loves them in no ordinary way--and who asks that we share this extraordinary love with one another across the hillsides of the lands where we dwell.
While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger."
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us."
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in a manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Magus of Myrrh
We bring the gift of myrrh: the marriage of the goodness of love and the goodness of faith in the natural world--a gift of the natural heaven, where heaven touches earth; the gateway through which we can see the greater glories of the greater heavens.
The good of love and the good of faith meet, marry, merge right here where we live in the natural realm. The story of heaven becomes the story of earth; the story of God becomes the story of God's people: the people who live in love of God, love of neighbor, with faith in good, faith in truth. We live as mortals--as indeed the Divine One also has done--in the story of our living and dying--living and dying in faith and love; in what we do.
What shall we give the highest King when we live on the basest plane? We give the best we have out of our humanity and our mortality. Resting what we believe on the reality of love, and resting our love on what we believe, we venture out into the world, a real world, with our mortal companions. God's story becomes our story as we embrace it, look for it, venture into the world seeking it, in order to give the best we have to offer.
This story is told from the natural heaven, where we begin to grow in faith, love, and charity. And the story doesn't end. It isn't over when it's over. On we go in our journey, with our companions, offering the best we have every time we encounter the ever-living Christ. Each one of us is a wise one, magician, reader of secrets, discerner of truths, stopping to ask directions along the way, getting help from unlikely sources both natural and heavenly. We leave the celestial, spiritual, and natural gifts where they belong, with the only One who can really help us to find our way, to become real, and to live. We give and then go home in fullness.
In the time of king Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, magi from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."
When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet, 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"
Then Herod secretly called for the magi and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Many are the babies born this night and last night, and the nights before that and the nights to come. Like the new king, many are born to poverty and need. And just as shepherds and Magi came to the Christ child, these babies of all ages count on someone to come to them, to give gifts--gifts to grow on.
Each child in this worship hall is invited to give a gift in honor of the One who gives us life. At the back of the sanctuary there are lots of food and household items. These gifts will be passed along to a family that is in need. We would like each child here tonight to bring these gifts forward and put them into the cradle. As each gift is given, please say: Thank you, God, for our ability to give. Thank you, God,
For the gift of your presence,
For your light,
For the Divine within,
For these blessings,
For the hands of these children,
For the bread of life.
Thank you, God, for the gift of life--yours and ours.
John 1:1, 14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen its glory . . . full of grace and truth.