You may listen to Mother Takacs' sermon here.
Have you ever given a truly great gift? Not been given a truly great gift, but given a truly great gift? It’s a pretty amazing feeling. You know, there’s this one person in your family who is impossible to shop for – your brother, perhaps. He’s one of those annoying people who are truly content with the things they already have. He likes movies, but he already has all of his favorites. He loves music, but he says he has all the tunes he needs. He’s not all that into clothes, he doesn’t like cologne, he would never wear a man purse. He has already been given an iPhone and an iPad and a kindle. A kindle…and suddenly you’ve got it. There’s a book that would be perfect for him – something he’ll definitely like but that isn’t so obvious that he would have thought of it himself. Something within his interests but that will also stretch him just a bit. It’s perfect! And so you go buy it, and wrap it (yes, the real book, not the ebook version) and bear it proudly to his house on Christmas Day. You can’t wait for that moment when you get to give it to him and watch him unwrap it. You do have one brief moment when you worry that this gift is so perfect that maybe you’ve actually given it to him before, but when he tears off the wrapping and smiles in surprise and delight, all of your fears evaporate like mist in the sun. You are filled up from within, happy in his happiness, glowing with the sheer pleasure of giving.
What does it take to give a truly great gift? First of all, it requires really knowing the person you’re giving to. What does she like? What are her interests, her passions? What does she need for work or want for play? What does she already have? What kind of gift will be so perfect and yet so completely unexpected? What gift will cause her eyes to light up because it’s just so her? Who is she?
Of course, a great gift also has to take into account who she is to you. What is your relationship like? Are you close? New friends, old friends? What kinds of conversations have you had, what kinds of things do you like to do together? What moments and memories have deep meaning for both of you? Who is she to you?
And any person who has given a really great gift will tell you that it takes a while to sift through all of these questions. It takes time to come up with just the right gift. While the answer may come in a flash of inspiration, it usually has taken some effort to get there. You’ve had to go round and round in your mind, thinking and mulling and pondering, before you stumble upon The Great Gift, before you recognize that wonderful thing that will be just perfect for her, especially coming from you.
Tonight is a night of great gifts. A child has been born, a son has been given. Tonight we recall together the journey of wise men from the East to the sleepy hamlet of Bethlehem, to the house of Joseph and Mary and the child Jesus. And we remember how these magi fell on their knees before this child, how they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts – magnificent, wonderful, truly great gifts. These gifts showed that the wise men knew who Jesus was; he was Messiah, the anointed one, and so they gave him precious, costly gifts that were fit for one who would someday wear a crown. But these gifts also showed that the wise men knew who Jesus was to them. Gold for the king of kings who would rule over them, over all nations, with justice and mercy. Frankincense for the great High Priest who would serve as their intercessor and offer forgiveness of sins and the bread of life to all people. And myrrh for the one whose sacrifice would offer them a new life in God and redeem the entire world.
And of course we know that the wise men had to make a great journey to this great moment of gift-giving. They had to walk, and ride, and sweat, and ache, and wander round and round in the wilderness to come upon the answer. I wonder when they knew what gifts they would bring. Did the answer come upon them mid-journey in a flash of inspiration, coming only after long hours of hunching over a camel’s back, fighting off the sickening false sweetness of Herod’s smile, and staring, always staring, up at the skies? Or was it only when they reached their journey’s end that they knew for certain, knew in that sure place of truth-telling in the base of their gut, that their gifts were right for this child and this moment? Whenever it was that they stumbled upon these great gifts, they knew them when they saw them and offered them on their knees under the light of a star. And they were filled up with that holy light, shining with joy to have made just the right offering, to have given a truly great gift.
What gift will you give to Jesus? He is not, of course, an easy person to shop for. He is immensely satisfied with what he already has. He never worries about what he will eat or what he will drink, or about his body, what he will put on. You’ve heard him talk about the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, and so you’ve silently crossed the bottle of Veuve-Clicquot and the gift card to Abercrombie & Fitch off of your list. What book would you buy him that he doesn’t already know, what music would you offer him that he hasn’t already sung? What do you get for the man who not only has everything, he made everything? We may have a pretty good idea of who he is, and who he is to us. We may have even journeyed far to get to him, passing through the joys and sorrows of life, making up time after the left turns and the backtracking and the missteps that have led us away from him. But even at the end of all of this, what gift can we possibly offer him?
The answer is that I don’t know the answer – for you. But I have the sneaking suspicion that right now, the answer, for you, is one thing. There is one thing in your life that has been pulling at your attention, one thing that nudges your soul each time you pray. One thing – one great gift that you haven’t yet offered to Christ. It is not the same thing for each of us. My gift is not the same as yours, and both of our gifts might change next month. But let’s not worry about next month or the person sitting next to you in the pew or standing in the pulpit. Let’s just worry about you, right now, kneeling before this little tiny child. What gift can you give him?
Perhaps, like the kings, you have something of great value to offer him. Perhaps your gift is money to help fund the ministry and mission of this Church in Christ’s name. Maybe your great gift is the gift of your talent – maybe you have no gift to bring that’s fit to give a King, but you can play your drum for him, or sing a song for him, or paint or dance or write or build something for him. Maybe you are like Amahl from the opera Amahl and the Night Visitors and your gift is that one thing in your life that is a kind of surrogate support, that crutch without which you think you can’t possibly stand. Maybe your gift is the gift of friendship and mentoring to a student at the St. James School. Maybe if you were a shepherd, you would bring a lamb, and if you were a wise man, you would do your part, but what you can you give him, give him your heart. Or maybe Christ already has your heart, and now you want to give him your hands. Maybe your great gift is the gift of your time and your energy. Maybe your gift is trust. Maybe it is the gift of holy listening or of prayerful conversation. Maybe it is the gift of speaking Christ’s name in the world, of telling your story, his story, the Gospel story. Maybe it is your repentance, your forgiveness, your love.
And maybe you don’t feel like you have anything to give at all. Maybe you feel like you don’t belong at this cradle, that you’re an imposter, that surely you’ve followed the wrong star. Maybe you feel like a Gentile kneeling at the foot of a Jewish Messiah. If you do, fear not, you’re in good company. “Lift up your eyes and look around,” Isaiah says to you, “they all gather together.” We all come here at the feet of this holy child, Gentiles and Jews, rich and poor, white and black, gay and straight, men and women, and we all belong, not because of who we are, but because of who he is. And so we all have a great gift to give him, a gift that shows who Jesus is and who he is to us. So offer your gift before him – your perfect, truly great gift. “Then,” the prophet says, “you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice.” Then a “new light [will] shine in our hearts,” a light that will reveal God’s “glory in the face of [His] Son Jesus Christ.” And that light that glows from the sheer pleasure of giving is itself a gift, because it is the gift of proclamation, of witness to the entire world. And that is exactly what Jesus has always wanted.
Preached by Mtr. Erika Takacs
The Feast of the Epiphany
Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia