Gifts to Jesus – an Epiphany meditation

So what gift are you going to give Jesus today?

Remember the story of the little drummer boy? I think it’s appropriate that the story of the Magi happens on the 12th day of Christmas, the one with the 12 drummers drumming in the Christmas carol “The Twelve days of Christmas”. We often talk about the gold, frankincense, and myrrh that Jesus received from the Magi but I think what is most important is the gift that the drummer boy gave him. He gave him the only thing he could give him. He didn’t give him anything that had to be wrapped. He gave him his best. He played his drum the best way he knew how, from his heart. That is the kind of gift to Jesus wants. Jesus wants us to give the best of ourselves to him and for him.

Jesus often says in the Gospels “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”. When he says that, he’s quoting from the prophet Hosea. Jesus doesn’t want your money. He wants your love and your service and your heart and your compassion.

So often, people talk about all that Jesus has done for them. They talk about how he sacrificed his life for their sins or how he promised them eternal life. They talk about how he saved them. But what happens after that? This isn’t a one way transaction. After that is when we have to prove ourselves worthy of that gift, “to bear fruit worthy of redemption”. That is when we have to give our gifts.

We give gifts to Jesus when we feed the hungry, show compassion, volunteer our time to help people who are needy. We give gifts to Jesus when we open our hearts and our homes to people who are fleeing injustice and war and oppression. We give gifts to Jesus when we treat every single person as if they are Jesus, remembering that he said “Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me”.

Christmas books for children

These are all very good picture books for children that are about Christmas. I will add to this list as I find more.

Babushka by Sandra Ann Horn
The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats
A song in Bethlehem by Marni McGee
Why Christmas trees aren’t perfect by Richard H. Schneider
Eloise at Christmastime by Kay Thompson

Specifically featuring the Magi –

The Stone: a Persian Legend of the Magi by Dianne Hofmeyr
The Fourth King: The story of the other wise man by Ted Sieger
The Fourth Wise Man (retold by Susan Summers, based on the story by Henry Van Dyke)
Small Camel Follows the Star by Rachel W.N. Brown

The escape and return of the Holy Family

The flight into Egypt.

The Magi left, and an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to Joseph in a dream. The angel said “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the baby and his mother and stay there until I tell you it is safe to return. Herod is about to search for the child to kill him.”

That very night he got up, and taking Mary and the child, escaped to Egypt. They stayed there until King Herod died. This fulfilled the prophecy of Hosea who said: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

MT 2:13-15

The massacre of the innocents

Herod flew into a rage when he realized that the Magi had outwitted him. He gave orders that all male children who were two years or less who lived in and around Bethlehem were to be massacred. This was because the Magi had told him that the star first appeared two years earlier.

This fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah who said “Cries of tears and mourning were heard in Ramah, Rachel weeping for her children, and she was unable to be consoled because they are dead.”

MT 2:16-18

The return to Nazareth.

Herod died, and an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph while he was in Egypt, saying “Get up! Take the child and his mother and return to Israel, because those who wanted to kill the child are dead.”

Joseph immediately traveled to Israel with Jesus and Mary. While on the way he learned that Herod’s son, Archelaus, was king over Judea, so he was afraid to travel there. He was warned in a dream as well, so he went to Galilee instead and settled in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled the words of the prophets who said “He will be called a Nazarene.”

MT 2:19-23

Jesus grew up in Nazareth, becoming strong, wise, and filled with God’s grace.

LK 2:40

In his father’s house.

The family travel to Jerusalem for the Passover festival every year. When he was 12 years old, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem while his family traveled back home to Nazareth. His parents didn’t notice his absence the first day because they thought he was walking with friends among all the other travelers. Then they began to look for him among their friends and relatives. Not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to continue their search. They finally found him after three days. He was sitting among the teachers in the Temple complex, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him talk was amazed at the depth of his understanding and answers. His parents were astonished when they saw him.

Mary said “Son! Why have you treated us this way? Your father and I have been worried sick looking for you.” Jesus replied “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know that I would be in my Father’s house?” But they didn’t understand what he was saying.

Then he returned to Nazareth and obeyed them, and Mary stored up this story in her heart. Jesus grew in wisdom and height, as well as in favor with God and people.

LK 2:41-52

The visit of the Magi.

Wise men entitled Magi (who were ministers and astrologers from Eastern lands) arrived in Jerusalem after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, during the reign of King Herod. They began to ask “Where is the King of the Jews who has just been born? We came to worship him because we saw his star rising in the east.”

King Herod and everyone in Jerusalem were upset and concerned by their question. Herod called a meeting of all the chief priests and scribes, asking them where the Messiah would be born.

They answered that it was to be in Bethlehem of Judea because the prophet Micah said: “You Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not an unimportant Judean village, because a leader will come from you who will shepherd the people of Israel.”

Then Herod secretly sent for the Magi to find out exactly when they first saw the star. He told them “Go to Bethlehem and find this child, then come back and let me know where he is so that I can go and worship him as well.”

The Magi continued their journey to Bethlehem after leaving Herod. They were overjoyed because the star that they had seen led them straight to where the child was. They entered the house where the child and his mother were and fell to their knees to worship him. They presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Then they returned home by a different route because they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod.

MT 2:1-12

Holy Stamps! Or, the Gospel illustrated with stamps.

In the Beginning

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John 1:1-4
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.2 He was in the beginning with God; 3 all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Birth of Jesus

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Luke 2:1-7
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. 2 This was the first enrollment, when Quirin′i-us was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. 7 And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

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Luke 2:8-20
8 And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; 18 and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

The Visit of the Magi

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Matthew 2:1-12
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet:

6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will govern my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared; 8 and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; 11 and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

The flight to Egypt

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Matthew 2:13-15
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

Many years pass. Jesus begins to teach. He tells everyone that God loves them and that they are forgiven, and they are to love and forgive everyone else. Then it comes time for the Passover, and for him to be sacrificed.

Jesus enters into Jerusalem upon a donkey

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John 12:12-19
12 The next day a great crowd who had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”14 And Jesus found a young ass and sat upon it; as it is written,

15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on an ass’s colt!”

16 His disciples did not understand this at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that this had been written of him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Laz′arus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead bore witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him.”

Jesus dies and is raised from the dead.

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John 12:27-36
27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify thy name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing by heard it and said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; 32 and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what death he was to die. 34 The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man?” 35 Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

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Nativity scene with Magi – I almost missed the best part.

I saw a picture of the nativity that took my breath away recently. Maybe it was the size. The picture is maybe three feet high by four feet across. Maybe it is the colors. Maybe it is the composition. Maybe it is all of it together, and more.

I apologize for the pictures. It is framed behind glass and there are a lot of fluorescent lights at the store. But, something is better than nothing.

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The first thing that got my attention is the tender scene of the Holy Family. It is to the right of the picture, bathed in light. It appears that all the light is coming from Jesus. Then I notice the shepherds kneeling, holding a candle for light, admiring Jesus. They were the first to be told by an angel that the Messiah had been born. They are joyous and overwhelmed. What they have waited for has finally happened.

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A dove looks on. This is the dove of peace, the dove of the Holy Spirit, and the dove of Noah, all at the same time. Doves are powerful symbols.

Then I wondered where the Magi were. There is no logical reason for thinking this. They don’t appear until 12 days later. The shepherds and the Magi aren’t together in the story, so they shouldn’t be together in this image.

Then I pan over, looking to the left. There they are, just getting off their camels. There they are, just about to come in. The artist has shown a moment in time, just for us, the viewer to see.

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The Magi haven’t seen Jesus yet, but they know He is there. He is the reason for their long journey.

Mary and Joseph haven’t seen the Magi yet. They don’t even know they are coming. They are still overwhelmed with the miracle that has just happened to them.

It is just us, the viewers, who are privy to this scene. We see it all.

It nearly made me cry, to see this moment. To think that I am seeing this slice of history. And to think I almost missed it. The Magi were there all along.

We read from left to right in America, and we view pictures the same way. Once you learn a pattern it is hard to break. I almost missed the Magi because I jumped straight ahead to Jesus.

When I saw them it was such a surprise that I gasped a little. There they were, and I almost missed them.

How often do we do this? We jump ahead to the good part, forgetting that it is all the good part. We forget that everything counts, every character, every brush stroke. We only see a piece and we miss out on the big picture.

The Magi are coming. They are on their way. They are in the desert, wandering like the Jews did, but not for forty years. They are following the same God who leads us all to freedom. At the end of the journey lies redemption, and proof that God is here, with us.