In all the services today Epiphany 2018, we explored the wise men’s gifts and what they mean and what wise men today might look like and what gifts they might bring.
In the All Age Service, Richard and Claire acted as Joseph and Mary, James, Tim and Frostie acted as the wise men all wearing Asiatic hats. There was a huge sack of Gold coins (or things which looked like gold coins but containing chocolate), a box containing Frankincense and a pouch containing Myrrh resin. We even used a thurible to burn some Frankincense to give everyone a sense of what worshipping with incense might feel like. A lot of coughing seemed to result…..
But then we wondered what wise men would look like today – bankers, philosophers and doctors – the wise mens hats were exchanged for a tie (in the case of the banker); an MA academic hood (in the case of the philosopher) and a stethoscope (in the case of the doctor). The modern wise men carried for Jesus a wad of £5 notes (the banker), Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaardner (a wonderful introduction to philosophy – for anyone over 12) and a book on the philosophy of religion (the philosopher) and a box of paracetamol (the doctor of course).
But all of these wise men and their gifts, then or now could not match up to the King of Kings, the Alpha and Omega, the Healer all, found in Jesus Christ.
For a recording of the sermon as given to the 8am Book of Common Prayer service and the 11am Matins service please see below (and the transcript follows the advert below)
Today we celebrate the arrival of the wise men to worship Jesus. The wise men gave Jesus the most precious gifts they could bring: Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.
What did these gifts mean?
Gold for a king – representing royal power and authority. We tend to forget (perhaps because our Queen has no real power) that in Ancient world a king had absolute power: power to tax; power to make war; power to to take property and power to put to death.
To give the baby Jesus gold was highly controversial, perhaps even seditious, suggesting a royal birth outside Herods palace suggested a potential rebellion.
Frankincense for a priest – burned in the temple in Jerusalem. Only priests in Israel were allowed to make or burn Frankincense. And Old Testament priests were the middle men: between men and God. Not now, of course! Jesus is our High Priest – our intermediary with God. Frankincense gave worshippers a sense of encountering mystery – a key to encountering God – ultimate truth about life the universe and everything!
Myrrh for death – embalming to keep a dead body from rotting. The biggest problem
for humanity is death. Everyone dies. But the ancients, by embalming bodies, stopped them from rotting and gave them a sense of defying death. If that sounds absurd, consider University College London, which was reported as having recently produced the skeleton and embalmed head of 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham, dressed in his clothes to be present as one of their council meetings. He was recorded in the minutes as ‘present but not voting’.
What do we call wise men today? Bankers, scientists, doctors, philosophers, maybe…
What gifts would wise men bring today? What gifts would bankers, scientists/medicines and philosophers bring today?
Instead of Gold for a king perhaps – money – money is now power: Kings/governments are only as powerful as the money they can raise from their citizens.
Instead of Frankincense, perhaps a book on Philosophy. Philosophy is a searching for truth. Philosophical thought uses logic, uses brain power, uses reasoning as a key to seek truth about life the universe and everything.
Instead of Myrrh, perhaps Medicine – which attempts to extend life…
whether it was then or now, the gifts the wise men give: although good, indeed the best, we humans can give…..are incomplete are provisional….only give a glimpse of truth, in comparison with the Person to whom they are giving them…
The gifts are a human attempt to give the best which we have discovered to the one who
created it all…the one who knows everything…
When the wise men come to see Jesus, this is when science stands in awe before the revelation of God, His character, His self, which is Jesus Christ, the baby in the manger. And what we have discovered, whether now or then, in the first century is trivial
in comparison with God.
Gold or Money, the sign of power, being given to the King of Kings, who is king over the whole universe…
Frankincense or philosophy being given to the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end: the person who knows exactly why everything is the way that it is, where it started and where it will end…
Myrrh or Medicine, being given to the Lord of life, who during his ministry brought the dead back to life by a touch and who himself was resurrected from the dead.
The story of the wise men should make us humble. Should serve to remind us that what we humans know, what we discover is just a glimpse of the complete truth. What we know
is just partial and provisional, in comparison with the revelation of God the universe and everything in Jesus Christ.
So as we start 2018 let’s have some humility. As we approach the crib; as we approach Jesus: the revelation of God, let’s have humility, like the wise men.
And recognise that what we humans know is limited and provisional. And open our minds
to the truth that the creator of the universe wants to teach us through his Word.