Hearts of Gold… and Frankincense and Myrrh
(Sermon at St John the Baptist, Felixstowe – 8 January 2023 – Feast of the Epiphany – transferred)
Text: On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2v11)
God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers.
Every so often the quirks of the Revised Common Lectionary, which sets out the Bible Readings for Anglicans, Roman Catholics and other churches across the globe, throws up a reading that could be just a tad embarrassing and, if the preacher were unwise, even downright mercenary…
Today, so that we may keep the great feast of the Epiphany on a Sunday, the Magi arrive two days later than usual in Bethlehem bearing gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh for the birthday of the new-born king.
Today it just happens to be the birthday of the Incumbent of the Parish of Felixstowe; St John the Baptist with St Edmund King & Martyr. Now I am not offering any hints at all about appropriate birthday gifts, and the organist has even been ‘warned off’ from playing a certain traditional ditty towards the end of the service!
After all expecting gifts emulating the Magi is a bit much in the midst of a Cost-of-Living Crisis isn’t it?
And if the Bishop were ever to discover that the PCC were funding Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh – current market price about £1 538.48 – instead of paying the Parish Share questions may well be asked at Diocesan Synod!
On the other hand if anyone happens to have any Kruger Rands lying around that they no longer require I know a vicarage that could use them… 😉
[P.S. if you do want to give the vicar a Birthday Gift please make a contribution to our family’s ‘Just Giving’ page in memory of our mum – or scan the QR Code on this blog.]
Much has been said about the Magi and their gifts.
Were they what was really given?
Why these gifts?
And where they of any use at all for a frightened young family getting ready to flee for their lives?
It has been speculated that if the Magi were women (and there is nothing in the Scriptures which says the Magi were men, or kings, or even that there were three of them – we only know there were three gifts) they would have brought sensible gifts for the new-born family; a casserole, nappies, and baby formula.
It is not the bearers of the gifts that are the most important part of the story of the Magi but it is the meaning of the gifts they are carrying. Remember the words of the carol?
Born a king on Bethlehem plain,
gold I bring, to crown him again
Frankincense to offer have I;
incense owns a deity nigh:
Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
breathes a life of gathering gloom;
And, just in case we hadn’t worked out their meaning, the final verse spells it out;
Glorious now, behold him arise,
King and God, and sacrifice!
Gold for a King.
Incense for a Priest.
Myrrh for the coming death and resurrection.
Symbols of a life to be lived for others and powerful symbols at that.
How can we compete with such generosity?
We do not have bottomless purses or even the much sought after ‘magic money tree’…
Another carol gives us a suggestion;
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
After all what more, what greater gift, can we give Him?
In the Story of The Other Wise Man by Henry van Dyke, Artaban finds himself living out this giving of his heart to Jesus spending the rest of his life trying to pass on the three gifts that he wanted to give but he constantly arrives too late to pass them on to Jesus.
[The movie The Fourth Wise Man dramatizes the story]
The lesson of Van Dyke’s story goes against what I have just said. The meaning of the gifts is not found in their monetary value, nor even their symbolic meaning, but in the giving of them.
If the only thing we can offer to the new-born king is our heart how do we give our heart away?
There are three ways we can do this; with Gold, with Frankincense, and with Myrrh.
Hearts of Gold
To give our heart to Jesus means to give our gold to Jesus. This is not only about money – though I would ask everyone to seriously consider the merits and ancient Christian practice of giving a tithe (10%) of their income.
Giving Jesus our gold means consciously letting go of possessions that will only weigh us down on the journey to Bethlehem and beyond.
In the Third Order of the Society of St Francis one of our aims is to live simply. Our Rule reads;
The Third Aim:
To live simply
We recognise that some of our members may be called to a literal following of Saint Francis in a life of extreme simplicity. All of us, however, accept that we avoid luxury and waste, and regard our possessions as being held in trust for God.
The ‘Stuff’ that clutters our lives, if we are not careful, can get in the way of giving our heart away. If we do not learn to ‘sit lightly on the things of the world’ the things of the world will weigh heavily on us!
When that happens we will need a divine version of ‘Britain’s Biggest Hoarders’ to help us fulfil our heart’s desire. It is the most difficult of tasks to give one thing away whilst holding fiercely on to another.
Hearts of Incense
If we are to give Jesus our heart what sort of Frankincense would we offer? Incense is all about devotion and loving worship and wherever there is a sweet-smelling perfume there is love.
To offer the incense of our hearts would mean that we dive deeply into our devotion and worship.
We should not allow our times of public worship become exercises in the rote repetition of liturgy.
We should have a fixed and definite plan for Daily prayer and reading of the Scriptures.
If we take offering the incense of our hearts seriously we may want to take up and live out a set Rule of Life. Again the Franciscans, along with many other groups, encourage the following of a rule. But it doesn’t have to be complicated to transform our lives. Fr Andrew SDC wrote this simple, yet profound rule of life which may be a good place to start;
A SIMPLE RULE OF LIFE
Christ sees me;
I will try never to do anything that I would not like Him to see.
Christ hears me;
I will try never to say anything that I would not like Him to hear.
Christ knows me;
I will try never to harbour in my mind anything that I would not like Him to know was there.
Fr Andrew SDC – Life and Letters
Hearts of Myrrh
Finally how do we give our hearts to Jesus with the bitter perfume of myrrh? This is about dying to ourselves so that we may live for Christ isn’t it?
I need only scratch the surface of my heart before I find far too many things in my life that need to be put to death. Do you find the same thing in yourself? For me, all too often, it is impatience giving way to a self-righteous anger. ☹
Give my Heart
If indeed all we have to give to Jesus is our hearts we have three ways to give them; Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.
It is not so far away from the beginning of the Year for us to still make New Year Resolutions. Might I suggest that each of us set some time apart in the coming days to ponder how we might give our hearts to Jesus by;
Giving our Gold – consciously giving what money we can and de-cluttering our lives of those things which keep us far away from God.
Giving our Frankincense – intentionally going deeper on our spiritual journey. Attending Morning Prayer or a Home Group, being part of our Book Club or going on the Quiet Day next month, deciding now to join the Lent Course or spend extra time in Bible Reading.
Giving our Myrrh – Consciously and deliberately giving up those frequent sins we may hold on to which only bring death to us and suck the life out of those around us.
Repenting of our sins – the Sacrament of Private Confession is available for all those who ask – and then going on to make reparation (where we can) for the harm our wilfulness has done.
In this way, as we give our goods, our prayers, and our misdeeds to God we will find the gift of our hearts welcomed alongside the gifts of the Magi at the manger of Bethlehem and with joy we can journey on to find ourselves inheritors of a heavenly home.
Note: This blog ‘Gifts Fit for a King’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2023. It may be reproduced free of charge on condition that the source is acknowledged.
Cover Image by the Wise Men 19 at Flickr Creative Commons