Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12
Preached by Rev. Deacon John Warner
Does the Magic Continue?
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight oh my Lord and my Redeemer.
As many of you know, I love to read. I read a little of everything. In fact, if I find myself alone in a restaurant without a book, I’m likely to be seen reading the labels on condiments. Did you know that green Tabasco sauce contains distilled vinegar, jalapeño pepper, water, salt, cornstarch, xanthan gum and ascorbic acid “to preserve freshness?”
One of my favorite literary genres is “magical realism.” Magical realism is not fantasy; nor is it science fiction. It exists when the mundane is invaded by something fantastical, something difficult to believe. For example, in the Spanish writer Gabriel García Márquez’s novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude , a trail of blood from one man, after leaving a house, turns right and left until it finally covers the town. Or, in Sarah Addison Allen’s The Girl Who Chased the Moon, there is a bedroom with wallpaper which changes patterns depending upon the emotions of its occupant.
When the mundane is invaded by something hard to believe. This definition certainly fits the magic of the Christmas story. Of course, I am not referring to the magic of how a jolly old elf, although lively and quick, along with twelve tiny reindeer can deliver all those presents to the children in the entire world during one night. What I’m talking about is the Incarnation --when God became flesh, to live like one of us, among us, by being conceived in the womb of a young humble peasant from Nazareth.
Now Christmas is gone. The trees have been thrown out, Christmas decorations taken down and stored again for next year, and Christmas presents received have been separated into three piles, to keep, give away or to regift next Christmas.
But, is Christmas gone? The Christmas 25th holiday is gone, but we shouldn’t confuse the secular holiday with the Christmas within our Christian liturgical year. As Father Jason said in last Sunday’s sermon, the twelve days of Christmas doesn’t end with Christmas. It begins on Christmas Eve and ends with the Feast of the Epiphany, which is tomorrow.
Does the magic of Christmas continue into Epiphany? Are there events that produce awe and wonderment? Are there episodes where the mundane is invaded by events difficult to believe? I believe the answer is yes based upon today’s reading from Matthew. The three wise men, the spiritual elite of the Gentile world, use the arcane knowledge of astrology to identify the birth of the king of the Jews. Appearing in King Herod’s court, the magi request his assistance in locating the baby so they can pay homage, but their inquiry only alarms Herod and the Jewish spiritual leaders. Herod dismisses the magi to find the baby but to return with the baby’s location so he can worship … the future king of the Jews! The star that announced the birth of Christ now moves ahead of the wise men until it stops over where the baby lies. The star’s movement is plausible within the ancient world’s model of the universe because stars were believed to be alive, especially, the Jews, who believed stars to be angels. They enter to worship the baby bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Departing, they return to their own country by a different route, having been warned in a dream to avoid Herod.
Why these three gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh? Although we don’t know why the wise men chose these three, tradition may yield some clues. Gold is probably the most obvious. Throughout the Bible, gold is symbolic for divinity; therefore, what better gift for Christ or God made flesh than gold. Frankincense is essentially hardened tree sap, which when burned gives off a fragrant offering to God, representing holiness and righteousness. Therefore, frankincense is symbolic for Jesus’ willingness to become a perfect sacrifice, a perfect offering for our sins. Finally, myrrh, is a spice used for embalming. Myrrh symbolized bitterness, suffering, and affliction; therefore this gift was a foreshadowing that the baby Jesus would grow to suffer greatly as a man giving his life on the cross for all who believed in him.
The wise men gave gifts worthy of a king; however, these gifts pale in comparison to the gift the Incarnation offers us. According to Isaiah in today’s reading, he brought light to illumine the darkness; he offers hope to those in despair and reconciliation, drawing the whole world to him.
Does the magic of Christmas and Epiphany continue? In 2002, I was ordained a deacon in the Diocese of Georgia. However, I had a diaconal ministry before that. It began with my baptism. Yours did, too. We all share a diaconal ministry, a ministry of service, which began when we were baptized, when we were grafted into the Christian family. It does, if we live out our baptismal covenant and become instruments of Christian service in this world. It does when we give of our time and talent. It is when we are serving the needs of this world that the mundane, the ordinary, is invaded by the fantastical, something hard to believe – a world transformed by our Christian service.