The wise men from the East are still, lectionarily, a few days journey away. We expect them tonight. We await their kingly gifts. They are at hand, but not in hand, like the gospel itself, like grace itself, like the Prince of Peace Himself. Kingly gifts…
These wise folks who carry the burden of the Christmas story tonight, and who bear such expensive gifts to the scene of Jesus’ birth, also bring you gifts. We certainly can be glad for the gold and incense and medicine with which they have again showered the Prince of Peace. What gifts, other than our whole selves and our every resource, are worthy of a Messiah? But, in their journey, remembered again tonight, the wise professors from Iraq also present you with holiday presents, gifts of the spirit. It is good to recieve as well as to give.
In the first place, the kings are seekers and searchers. They embody the dominical saying, “seek and ye shall find.” They do search, diligently, and they do find their hearts’ desire. One card given me this year ended with the phrase, “may you find your heart’s desire.” These magi would applaud such a note. Not for them, the one storey life. Not for them, the one horse life. Not for them, the overly easy, overly simple. To search diligently for your heart’s desire means work and loss and failure. To seek means to question, to reject, to give up. It may even mean changing your mind or your plan. I love Christmas eve because I know that at least some have come to church searching, or have come to church to represent to themselves that they still wonder, they still care, they still are yearning for the heart’s desire. Here is a kingly gift for every one who is searching diligently. Our wise men tonight bless you. They may represent God’s benevolence toward you, the benevolent watching and guiding of a shepherd, or of a parent, or of a teacher. If no church will encourage your search, if no popular movement will animate your soul, if no family member or friend finally will validate your seeking–fear not: the kings of the East know the precious value of your search, for it has been theirs as well.
In the second place, the wise ones offer you a gift which may not seem very religious, nor very fit for yuletide. Yet it is a princely possession for those who will recieve it. I refer to their capacity to sift and measure, to sift and separate wheat from chaff, true from evil. These kings remind you of your own high calling, to discern, to test everything, to consider and ponder and think. Life is more than activity and work. Life is more than running and stopping. Life is more than selling and buying. Actually, none of these outward acts means much, without the heart’s desire. Here the magi have shared a remarkable, choice possession, yours for the asking. Herod’s information is accurate but his motives are unclean and his purpose is malevolent. Herod is a wolf, in sheep’s clothing. Wisdom knows the howl of the wolf. The kings could overhear the deception in Herod’s claim to worship. Herod lives still, and the wise of this world learn to distinguish true from evil.
In the third place, the kings give you another look at the star. They encourage you to trust the inner sense you have of guiding, of light, of direction. You were not born without a moral compass. You have a conscience. It lives as long as you live. Through all of the valleys and hills of life, this inner sense will orient you, if you will recieve it as the royal gift it is. All too often we forsake our own best insight, out of false humility, out of laziness, out of fear, out of self-doubt. Just here, the three kings have a Christmas gift to offer you. Train your ear to hear your own conscience. Strain your mind and heart to know the pure tones of the heart’s desire. There is a difference, distinct if definite, between your almost self and your own most self. God is with you in your almost self, prevenient grace abounding before you know it. God is with you to guide you from your almost self to your own most self, the salt, light, peace, heart, soul, marrow of your being, the you the world is waiting to know, justifying grace abounding here and now, and making happy people, happy in God. God is with you to lift your own most self into your utmost self, sanctifying grace, day by day, decade by decade. Practice. Abstain from evil. Do good. Worship God
Strange gifts, for a strange story, and a strange night. Wise men from the east bring gold and frankincense and myrrh. Also, they bring you some gifts tonight. They are yours for the unwrapping. A blessing upon searchers. A blessing upon thinkers. A blessing upon believers. Go and search. Go and measure. Go and trust. Then, with these ancient travelers, you too will have something to lay at the feet of the Messiah.