Monday, December 19, 2016

Carol Service Sermon: Matthew 2:11 Gospel Gifts

What would it have been like if it had been three wise women instead of the three wise men? They would have asked for directions; arrived on time; helped deliver the baby; cleaned the stable; made a casserole; and brought practical gifts.

Let’s face it, the three wise men don’t really seem very wise at all. I mean, if you heard that a friend or a family member had a baby, you wouldn’t stock up on gold, frankincense and myrrh, would you? They wouldn’t be top of your shopping list in Marks and Spencer. There are a thousand and one things that would be more practical and useful for a first-time mum - baby clothes, nappies, towels, bibs, the list could go on and on.

But in Matthew 2:11 we hear these words: ‘And going on into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.’ But why did the wise men bring these particular gifts?

Well, each of the gifts tell the story of the baby - these are gospel gifts. The first one is obvious enough - gold for a king. It was the question the wise men asked when they arrived in Jerusalem at the royal palace. ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?’ Herod wasn’t pleased by their question. He thought he was the king. But even from his birth, Jesus is king of the Jews. The gold shows that Jesus is the king.

Next, we have the Frankenstein, sorry, frankincense. This was a sign of divinity - the sign that this is no ordinary baby, that this is God who has come. You see, in the Old Testament, frankincense was used in the temple offerings. In fact, it was only to be used in the temple - you couldn’t buy it in Boots alongside the bottles of Dior or Old Spice. This baby is a king, but he is also God with us - as shown by the frankincense.

So what about the third one? It’s not a mirror (the thing you look at your face in); but myrrh - perhaps the strangest of the three. Sometimes you have to go into a Yankee candle shop. The blend of smells and fragrances can be overpowering. I find that if I take a deep breath and hold it as long as I can, I can just about survive until we’re out again. In those kind of shops you find all sorts of smells - the Christmas ones of cinnamon, or spiced orange, the regular ones like fluffy towels or lavender. But you definitely wouldn’t have chosen to buy a myrrh candle. Myrrh was the smell of death. It was used in the burial rituals, and 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes would be used when Jesus was buried after the crucifixion.

Even as a little baby, the wise men bring a reminder that Jesus was born to die. He would die in our place, to take away our sins, and to give us pardon and peace. This is the good news of Christmas, as the wise men bring these strange, and yet appropriate gifts. Perhaps they were wiser than we thought. And wiser still, they fell down and worshipped him. This baby, the King over us, who is God with us, who will die for us.

The gifts tell the gospel. Jesus is the king - will you surrender to him? Jesus is God - will you worship him? Jesus is the one who died and rose again for your sins - will you take refuge in his sacrifice?

As the bumper sticker says: ‘Wise men worshipped Jesus. They still do.’ This is how you can be truly wise this Christmas, as you receive God’s gift to you, and bow before him in worship.

This sermon was preached at the Carols by Candlelight service in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 18th December 2016.

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