We are all familiar with the kings of Matthew’s Christmas story – just as a check that you were listening to the Gospel: how many kings were there?
4? (3 Kings + Herod)
2? (Herod + Jesus. NB The wise men are Magi and not Kings according to Matthew)
We think there are three kings because of their three gifts – gold and frankincense and myrrh
Why does Matthew speak of these gifts?
These are indeed gifts for a king – for a king as great as Solomon
In the book of Kings we read how the Queen of Sheba ‘came to Jerusalem [to see Solomon] with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold’ (1 Kings 10:2);
So when Isaiah looked forward to a return to the former glories for Israel he remembered this visit
“A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.” (Isaiah 60)
Gold and spices and tell us that we are returning to the golden age of a king in Israel
These are gifts for a king – but not an ordinary king
Gold for sure – the metal of crowns and coins
Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign.
But frankincense is the holy perfume of the sanctuary- of sacrifice
We read in Leviticus 2:1 regarding Offerings: When anyone presents a grain-offering to the Lord, the offering shall be of choice flour; the worshipper shall pour oil on it, and put frankincense on it,
Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, all men raising,
Worship Him God Most High.
What about myrrh? What is myrrh – other than difficult to spell?
It is associated with frankincense the perfume of the sanctuary
But it’s a rarer resin – with healing properties, famous for being bitter
It is the oil of healing, of anointing
Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.
“Sealed in a stone cold tomb” – suddenly Easter is over and we are in Passiontide – the tomb speaks of Good Friday. It is predictive: in the words of another Epiphany hymn: “mornings of joy give for evenings of tearfulness”
So how are we are to understand these gifts?
I offer some interpretations:
First they they are the gifts of a king (gold) who is holy (incense) and yet mortal – he can suffer and die (myrrh)
As such, they are a representation of Jesus’s trinitarian nature
He is God the creator from whom all the riches of the earth are received (Gold)
He is God the son – the healer, the one who will himself die (Myrrh)
He is God the spirit – the thing which being seen and unseen links all things. Have you all caught a whiff of the incense here this morning – even though you can not see it?
Secondly, these gifts can be seen in the light of our own offerings. WE are the wise men
“Gold I bring” – we offer our wealth, our time and our talents to the service of God
This is a good time of year to think about thr offerings which we make – fiancial and otherwise
To which end, we are looking for people to help as sidemen, servers, sacristans – could that be you?
“Frankincense to offer have I” – we bring our worship, our songs of praise and our prayers – we strive to make ourselves God’s holy people
We can think abut our prayer life and our bible reading – we are about to enter Lent – if you want advice on a book for Lent see me afterwards
“Myrrh is mine” – we follow Christ in healing, in helping the sick and distressed.
We need pastoral assistants – could that be you?
Finally, we follow Christ to certain death by the way of the cross.
But we do so confident in the destiny which awaits us like him, to join with God in heaven
Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and sacrifice;
Earth to Heaven replies.
So what will be your reply from Earth to the gift that you have received from heaven?
Perhaps the most important thing is to be like the wise men – as seekers after Jesus, as revealers of Jesus to others .
We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain, (Clearly a reference to Headley Heath)
Following yonder star
Our most important role is to follow the star and to lead others to the find the gift of the baby – that very special baby, who was born King of the Jews
Sermon Preached by Revd Christopher Hancock, at St Mary’s Headley on the Feast of the Epiphany, 7th January, 2018