As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, The gifts that we bring to offer our king, was given at the Church of Christ Wembley Downs on Sunday 6 January, 2013. The Bible reading was Matthew 2:1-12.
I wonder if Mary and Joseph had the same thoughts when the caravan of Magi rocked up with gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh? We don’t hear how much was brought, but considering how far they are thought to have travelled, I wouldn’t expect that it was a small gift. I can imagine Joseph saying “Thanks very much, but how am I going to get all this home? Can you at least give me one of your camels to carry all of this as well?”
Today I want to look at these three gifts. We may not be able to give Gold, Frankincense and myrrh to our Lord, but each of these three gifts are associated with an aspect of our lives that we can give to God. Gold, being the gift of holiness, Frankincense, the gift of prayer, and Myrrh, the gift of self.
Myrrh – the gift of self
Myrrh is produced from the sap of a tree. It features in many different aspects through the bible. In Genesis, Israel offers it, as well as other products, as part of the best gifts of the land in compensation for food from Egypt. In Esther, oil of Myrrh is part of the beauty treatments for the women who are to go before King Xerxes. In Exodus, it is part of the anointing oil that is used to anoint the temple and temple articles. Finally, in John, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea use myrrh and aloes to embalm Jesus’ body.
So we have a few ideas here, although most people tend to associate myrrh with Jesus’ death and suffering. Yes, we’re still focussed on Jesus’ birth, but we also need to look towards Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus Christ, during his time of prayer before being arrested, prayed “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39. Jesus gave up his own will, in order that the plan that God had would be fulfilled.
Likewise, we need to give up our own wills, in order to align ourselves to the plan that God has for our lives. For myself, I had to give up my dreams in order to follow the plan that I had for my life. I had plans to become an orchestral violinist. I had such a great time at WAAPA, and loved music, and knew that I wanted to do it for the rest of my life. But when God called me into ministry with the Salvos, I had to give up my own dreams, my self, in order to follow God’s plan for my life. I’m not saying that we all need to give up our career plans in order to join the ministry, but when God places something on our hearts, we need to follow his will, and not our own.
Frankincense – the gift of prayer
Frankincense was a form of incense that was regularly used in the offering up of prayers to God. Psalm 141 says “May my prayer be set before you like incense;” and so our prayers should be fragrant offerings towards God. This year, as a gift to God, let’s look again at our prayer life.
Last year, I took a class looking at the contemplative side of spirituality within the Salvation Army. We looked at many different ideas, but one that really struck me was looking into the Rule of St Benedict. In his prologue to his rule, he said “Before doing anything worthwhile, begin first in prayer.” I think that this is such vital advice – before doing anything worthwhile, go to God in prayer. I take it a step further, and say before doing anything, begin first in prayer. Because if you are doing something that isn’t worthwhile, then it isn’t worth doing, therefore we should begin everything in prayer.
Another thing that struck me through doing this class is that there are many different styles of prayer, and they are all fantastic, and the fact is that most of them probably won’t feel comfortable at first. Praying in tongues has never really worked for me, but that’s not to say that it won’t be a wonderful way of prayer for you. I’m one who likes to internalise my prayers, but maybe that doesn’t work for you. It doesn’t matter how, it only matters that you do.
But it’s also important that we constantly reassess our prayer life. At the college, we have reviews about every six months just to see how we’re doing. Through this process, we get an opportunity for our peers, and staff, to give feedback on a number of benchmarks. Through my most recent review, I had already known that I wanted to re-evaluate my prayer life, to inject some freshness into it. Yet through my review, I received feedback saying that I was deeply grounded in prayer – through what my friends and the staff had seen. But I know that you can’t become complacent in your prayer life, just like you can’t become complacent in any relationship. Stop talking to someone and you’ll eventually grow apart, and not know how to talk to each other. But if we relentlessly pursue our relationship, and keep finding new ways to talk, to get to know each other, then we will grow deeper and deeper together.
Gold – the gift of Holiness
Finally, the gift of Gold. Traditionally given to signify royalty, one of the things that makes Gold special is its purity. When dug out of the ground, it has lots of imperfections, and other materials that make it effectively just a chunk of rock. But when it is heated up, it melts, and the impurities rise to the top, and the goldsmith is able to take out those impurities, leaving just pure gold. You need a lot of heat in order to do this, but the end result is a metal so pure that it is highly sought after.
This past year, one of my favourite subjects was the foundations of the Wesleyan Holiness Tradition. The Salvation Army is very much a holiness movement, but I believe that holiness is something that we all can achieve, and something that makes our lives better, and our relationship with God deeper. As I was going through this course, I became deeply aware of the sinful nature in my life. I prayed to God, and I asked him to take this, and all impurities out of my life. I wanted to live a life of holiness, because I believed it to be possible. After I prayed, I tried to avoid all temptation, to stop me from falling into my sin.
Daily I would pray for God to help me through this time. There were times that would have been triggers in the past, but on reflection I realised that I had been strong, and that the triggers and temptations were no longer an issue. Upon realising this, I praised God for helping me through this time. It was tough – but through God’s refining fire, he is helping me to live a holy life. It is a struggle every day, but one that is possible, because with God all things are possible.
So this year, let’s devote our lives to give God these three gifts. Myrrh, the gift of self. Frankincense, the gift of prayer. And Gold, the gift of holiness. Through these things, may we grow ever closer to God, deeper in our faith, and stronger in our determination to bring God’s Kingdom to this world. Let’s pray.
Father God, you sent your son, Jesus Christ, to this world to bring your radical message of love. The Magi came and brought him gifts, fit for a king. Lord this year, may we also bring you gifts, because you are king of kings, and lord of lords, and lord over our lives. May we give our whole selves to you. May we deepen our prayer life with you. And may we, with your help, be encouraged to live lives of purity that honour you. Grant us your help through all these things, and bless us richly this year. Through your glorious name we pray, Amen.