January 3, 2016
Today we read the story of the 3 kings, the magi, the wisemen. Now I've said before, we really don’t know how many there were. Our clue for three is three gifts; maybe there were 5 wisemen and two of them went together on the gold and two on the myrrh? Maybe there were 10 and they divided the costs up evenly? But we do know that they followed the star, they went first to Jerusalem. A phrase used several times in the reading is to pay him homage, not a term we use a lot today. It is a special honor or respect shown publicly. They bowed down and worshiped, we gather to worship and pay homage to Jesus much as the wisemen did. But our paying homage won't look like theirs. This morning I'm taking a page from Judy's sermon a few weeks ago, I'm telling a story. Unlike hers, this is not a true story but the story of a fictional fourth wiseman. We've never heard of this fourth wiseman named Artaban. The story will explain why not and hopefully give us a picture of how we can best pay homage to our Lord and Savior.
We begin with Artaban making arrangements to meet up with the other three wisemen--Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior are their traditional names. Our friend, the fourth wiseman Artaban, actually had three gifts of his own to give. There was a valuable sapphire, a beautiful Ruby and a flawless pearl.
Let's join Artaban riding hard on horseback, desperately trying to reach the meeting place with the other three kings before they started their caravan. Time was short, he had no time to spare. Suddenly, he notices a figure just off the road, a man who had taken ill. Artaban was torn; his nature was to stop and help. But if he did he would miss the caravan on the way to see the new king. It ended up, he did stop, did help the stranger and did miss the caravan. So now he would be on his own to travel across the barren desert.
He determined he needed to form his own caravan to cross the desert. He needed camels, drivers, food, supplies...and that all cost money. He had to sell his sapphire to raise the needed funds. He was disappointed as he had looked so forward to presenting the valuable sapphire to the king.
` Soon his caravan was on their way. They traveled as fast as they could seeking to catch the other group. But when they arrived in Bethlehem, he discovered to his disappointment that Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior had already left. And he didn't know where to find the king.
He found a place to stay as he considered his options. As he shared a meal with the family with whom he was staying, they were all startled when upon this small village there descended an army of soldiers. He was astounded as these soldiers were killing the children! He went to the door and witnessed the cold-blooded killings of the babes and heard the terrified screams of mothers; he saw blood running in the streets. Then soldiers came to the door where he was; there was an infant boy there that must be put to death. Artaban quickly took out the ruby and bribed the captain to leave this house alone and saved that little boy. A sacrifice he willingly made.
But now both the sapphire and the ruby were gone. Artaban was saddened but comforted by the fact that he had the priceless pearl left to give the king. He began then a long search for this king whom he had come to Israel to worship with his gifts.
We jump ahead some thirty years in the story. He'd failed to find the king, but had never given up his quest. Now he is in the city of Jerusalem at the time of their passover. But once again, he witnesses their soldiers doing the leaders' dirty work. It was a procession with a man carrying his own cross for a crucifixion. It took Artaban a few hours of asking questions, but he discovered that this man was likely the very king for whom he'd been searching. He had finally arrived at the object of his long quest and the king was being put to death! Artaban quickly prepared to go to Calvary and he would bribe the soldiers with his perfect pearl...he would at last give his gift to the king. As he started down the street, a young girl came running being chased by authorities. She sought his help, “My father is in debt, they are taking me away to sell as a slave to pay his debt. Please help me!”
Artaban was torn once again. He was so close to the king. He had anticipated this meeting for so long. But he hesitated just a moment before he drew out the pearl. He used the pearl to buy the girl's freedom. As he contemplated this turn of events, the skies suddenly darkened and there was the violent shaking of the ground as an earthquake hit. A pillar nearby crumbled and it struck Artaban in the head knocking him to the ground unconscious. The young girl whom he had just saved came to help him. As she cradled his head in her lap, she heard him speaking in a far off voice. “Not so, my Lord! For when did I see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink, or naked and clothe you? When did I see you sick, in prison and visit you? I've looked for you for 33 years and never even seen your face...I've never ministered to you in your times of need.”
Then came a low and sweet voice, barely audible but even the girl heard it, “Assuredly I say to you, in as much as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it for me.”
And Artaban smiled in death. Because he knew that the king had indeed received his precious gifts.
How do we pay homage to the king? We bring our gifts, our tithes and our offerings. We serve in the church as officers, as deacons, as food servers, as ushers, we read scripture, we share prayers and joys, we sing songs of praise. We don't many of us have precious gifts like Artaban had. But I want to suggest that today, we are in possession of precious gifts that we can offer to the Lord. We are at the doorway of a brand new year. There are 363 days ahead of us. We need to decide how to use them. These are days we can use for our own interests and selfish desires. Or we can determine to use them as an offering to God. To be fully engaged with our world, to be with the people around us, to be available to serve.
Artaban never set out on his journey to help people in need. His goal was to meet and to worship the king. But it was in his helping others that he met and worshiped Jesus. That is the gift we all have to offer. How we help will vary, but we all have the ability to help.
We just celebrated Christmas. We prepared during Advent to meet the baby in the manger. We heard the story of Christmas on Christmas Eve, not just the birth but the whole plan of salvation. We sang the carols, we worshiped. But we are called to remember that Jesus did not stay a baby. He grew up and he served. And he calls us to serve. Our answer is to be simply, “Here I am, Lord...I will go Lord, if you lead me.” The Lord is with us, we celebrate that in the sacrament this morning. Our reading from Ephesians sums up what God has done in this gift of Jesus Christ even as we read it giving thanks, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ.” Once again, we are reminded of our adoption into the family of God. We are reminded of the blessings we have in Christ. We are blessed with a living relationship with God in Christ. Our gift, our homage is to follow where the Lord leads. Be willing to give to those in need. Be fully present in each moment of the New Year. Love...because God first loved us and sent his only begotten son...who came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for the many. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We pay him homage in our serving others. Amen.
Hymn: Here I Am Lord 525 PH
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