Pastor Chris Matthis
Epiphany Lutheran Church, Castle Rock, Colorado
Stewardship Series Commitment Weekend
Saturday, December 7th, 2013
Sunday, December 8th, 2013
Sermon: What Gift Will You Bring?
Text: Matthew 2:1-11
Focus: Jesus Christ is the greatest gift of all.
Function: That they would give thanks for God’s gifts and give a return of their time, talents, and treasures.
Locus: “For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him” (SC, 1st Article of Apostles’ Creed).
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. For this Stewardship Commitment weekend, I have chosen to preach about the visit of the magi:
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose 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 shepherd my people Israel.” 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had 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 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until 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” (Matt. 2:1-11, ESV).1
1 All Scripture references, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
I know that the story of the magi is not an Advent pericope. This story belongs to the season of Epiphany (after Christmas). But our lectionary’s division of Scripture is artificial anyway, and it’s a really good passage for any Sunday, especially on this Stewardship Celebration weekend.
Several weeks ago I preached on Psalm 116: “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?” (Ps. 116:12). Or, as another translation has it, “How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?” (NIV). The answer, of course, is that you can’t. You’ll never be able to out-give God because we have a loving, heavenly Father who loves to give his children gifts. At Christmas especially we remember the wonderful gift of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who took on human flesh and made his dwelling among us. That is the message of our faith!
Yet faith responds to God’s gifts. Faith receives what God offers: daily bread, his Word, his Body and Blood, his only-begotten Son, his forgiveness, and eternal life. And then faith gives back to God as a way to say “thanks” for all his benefits. Worship is all about gift and response. Worships begins with God.
In the Introduction to our blue hymnal, Lutheran Worship, Dr. Norman Nagel writes:
“Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise…. The rhythm of worship is from [God] to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol them. We build one another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink. Finally his blessings moves us out into our calling, where his gifts have their fruition.”2
Gifts of prayer and praise, tithes and offerings, and service are part in parcel of Christian worship. God gives, and we give back. Stewardship is integral to the pattern of worship, both at church and in our callings in the world.
Worship is the focus of my reading from Matthew 2. The magi, or wise men, appeared in Jerusalem, seeking to worship the newborn king of the Jews, whose advent was heralded by “his
2 Norman Nagel, Introduction to Lutheran Worship (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1982), 6.
star” in the east. Of course, they were in the wrong zip code, but after they stopped and asked for directions (proving they truly were “wise” men!), they found the infant Jesus in a house in Bethlehem.
And when they found Jesus, how did they worship him? “They rejoiced exceedingly with great joy…, and they fell down and worshiped him…. They offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matt. 2:10-11). Gifts—offerings!—are integral to worship. The wise men gave Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold was a gift fit for a king. Frankincense was appropriate for our great high priest, since the Jewish priests burned frankincense on the altar of incense whenever they said the evening prayer. And myrrh was a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice Jesus would offer up on the altar of the cross: his own body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. (Myrrh was one of the spices used to embalm bodies for burial.)
The magi presented gifts to the King of kings, the Great High Priest, and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. At this time of year, gifts are on our minds too: Black Friday shopping, Cyber Monday deals, Amazon wish lists, gifts for family, friends, and coworkers, gifts for nursing home residents. And it’s good and thoughtful to give gifts to the people we love.
But we mustn’t allow our Christmas shopping and gift giving to overshadow the reason for the season. We mustn’t allow ourselves to be consumed by coveting and American consumerism—which always threaten most terribly at this time of year (myself included). At Christmas we must remember the burning light of the greatest gift of all: God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…” (Isa. 9:6a, KJV).
God gave his Son to die for us so we could have the gifts of salvation, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. These free gifts are yours only in Christ. “For God so loved the world, that
he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).
Faith and life in Jesus Christ are the greatest gifts you will ever receive! Yet faith gives back. Forgiveness is for giving:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).
One of the good works God requires of us is to give our tithes and offerings. To withhold the tithe is the same as robbery in God’s eyes (Mal. 3:8-9). Offerings are an important part of worship. The Psalmist sings, “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts!” (Ps. 96:8).
Five weeks ago I told a funny story about someone who asked me during my vicarage year (internship) if we really have to give ten percent of our income to God. “No,” I replied, “you can give more!” We can give more, and we should give him more. God doesn’t want only a fraction of your time or a mere tithe of your income. God wants all of you, your entire person, 100%, your whole being. The apostle Paul writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1).
Everything we do, every breath that we draw, every dime that we earn comes from the Lord. It’s all gift! And so, in return, we give ourselves wholly and fully to his service and his kingdom. “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). I am reminded of a verse from the Christmas carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter”:
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what can I give him? Give him my heart.
What can I give him?” the song asks. “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?” (Ps. 116:12).
God has given us everything in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus. Jesus the Messiah is the greatest gift of all. “For God so loved the world that he gave…” And so I leave you with this question: What will you give to God this coming year? In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Now may God supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19). Amen.
Pastor Chris Matthis