Matthew 2: 1 – 12 Gifts for a King Sunday January 3, 2021

Gifts for a King

Matthew 2: 1 – 12

 This past week, we celebrated New Year’s Day: a day to watch football, visit with friends, or just recover from the festivities of the night before.  This year, instead of gathering with friends, maybe you visited with friends on line, thanks to the wonder of Zoom and similar video communication tools.  Whether your New Year’s Day involved football or a Zoom call, I hope it was enjoyable.  When I was growing up, every New Year’s Day I had a job to do.  Along with my brothers and sister, I had to write thank-you notes for the gifts I had received for Christmas.


Most of the time, this was not an onerous task.  But once in a while there would be a gift for which I found it hard to say thank you.  Once in a while there would be gloves that didn’t fit or a sweater that was out of style.   And my brothers sometimes had to write a thank you note for the tie that they knew would gather dust in the closet.  At times, writing those notes tested our ability to say thank you to the giver.  Sometimes, when you and I receive a gift, gratitude comes easily.  At other times, though, it’s harder to be grateful.


In our passage for today, Matthew describes the visit of the wise men to the baby Jesus.  This passage raises a question for me:  I wonder how Mary felt about the gifts they brought.  I wonder, did she feel grateful for the gold, frankincense, and myrrh?


I don’t imagine it was hard to be grateful for the gold.  Gold was something anyone would treasure.  Gold was beautiful.  A large enough amount of gold would make possible a life free of money worries.  Frankincense was also a treat.  It would make a nice perfume for anyone, but for devout people like Mary and Joseph, it was especially welcome.  Frankincense could be used in their religious celebrations.  Whenever they worshiped God, it would have infused their worship with fragrance.


But what about the third gift?  What about the myrrh?  Was Mary grateful for the myrrh?   Myrrh was used at the time of death, to prepare the dead for burial.  Mary must have been surprised at the gift of myrrh.  Why did these strangers from the East bring myrrh for her little boy, whose life was just beginning?


Today we mark the beginning of a new season in the church year: the season of Epiphany.  We’re getting a bit of a jump on the season because it actually begins on Wednesday, January 6, two weeks after Christmas.  We’re celebrating this Sunday as Epiphany Sunday: the beginning of the season of Epiphany.


Every year, we hear on Epiphany Sunday the story of the wise men who are led by a star to the baby Jesus.  When the wise men arrive at the manger, they kneel in adoration and lay before Jesus gifts fit for a king.  One of those gifts is myrrh, a substance used to embalm the bodies of the dead.  It may have seemed strange to Mary, but this, too, was a gift for a king.  This myrrh was a gift for a different kind of king.  This was a gift for a king who would give his life to show the power of God’s amazing love.  Jesus would be a king in whose reign death would be vanquished forever.  Jesus would usher in a Kingdom where death would no longer have the last word; a Kingdom where death would no longer have the power to discourage or defeat us; a Kingdom where, as the apostle Paul puts it, “death is swallowed up in victory” (I Corinthians 15:54).


It’s been said that what death did to Jesus is nothing compared to what Jesus did to death.  Jesus brought into the world a whole new way of understanding death.  Because of Jesus, we know that death may end an earthly life, but death cannot separate us from the love of God; that whether we are in death or in life, we are held in God’s care.


One elderly woman understood that well, as she showed in a conversation with her pastor one day.  The pastor was visiting her in the hospital.  When he came into her room, the elderly woman had been sleeping.  She heard his footsteps at her bedside and opened her eyes.   Still half awake, she looked up at him and said, “Oh, I thought you were Jesus.  I thought I had died and I was waking up in heaven, and Jesus was there waiting for me.”


Then, the two of them prayed together.  When it was time for him to go, the pastor smiled and said, “Would you do something for me?  When you get to heaven, and you see Jesus, would you say, ‘Oh, I thought you were Pastor Larry.’”?  The woman assured him that she would.  She died later that evening, at peace.


The wise men were led by a star to the place where Jesus was born.  They knelt by the manger.  They were filled with joy to see the light of heaven in his face.  They offered gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.  Myrrh was a gift fit for this king, a king who would vanquish the power of death forever.


When you and I see the light of heaven in his face; when we open ourselves to that light, we enter a wondrous new reality: the wondrous reality that death has been swallowed up in victory.  And life will never be the same.







Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Epiphany Sunday



“The Virgin’s Slumber Song”          – Max Reger               

Maria Ferrante, Soprano           

Joyce Carpenter-Henderson, Pianist