What Gifts Did You Received? What Will You Do with Them? Thoughts for the Epiphany of the Lord

Let me begin by asking two questions.  First, how many “wise men” or Magi visited the Baby Jesus?  And second, why were the gifts that they brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh?

We tend to think that there were three because three gifts were given.  But in most translations of Matthew’s Gospel, there is no mention of how many came.  In Eastern tradition, the number is set at 12.  And, in the manner of the time, there is no mention if there were any women or children in the entourage.

Who were the Magi?  Again, we have no records to tell us who they were, and it is only in legend that three of the Magi are named.

And why were the gifts given gold, frankincense, and myrrh?  Some suggest that the gold was used to finance the family’s escape from Herod into Egypt and the frankincense and myrrh represented the preparation of Jesus’ body when he died.

But Herod’s wrath that would lead to Joseph, Mary, and the Baby Jesus fleeing to Egypt did not occur until after the Magi left.  And no matter how wise the Magi would have been, I don’t think they would have given materials used for the preparation of a body for burial as a birthday gift.  In addition, because of their shelf life, I don’t think that the frankincense and myrrh would have lasted for thirty-some years.

It was convenient for Matthew to write his Gospel with those events in mind because he was writing some seventy years after the birth of Jesus.  But many traditions, just like myths, have an element of truth in them.

Gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were gifts present to a newborn king, whom the Magi had sought out.  And after the Magi had left, Joseph could have sold the frankincense and myrrh to fund the trip to Egypt and the gold would have probably provided enough funds to allow them to settle in while Joseph found work until it was safe for the family to return to Nazareth.  (In modern day terms, the Magi started a “GoFundMe’ account for the family.)

In giving Jesus their gifts, they ensured that we would have a future.  I am sure that someone will point out that if the Magi had not been there, God would have seen to it that someone was there.  But it was the Magi who saw the signs of Jesus’ birth and it was the Magi that sought out the newborn baby.  It was their gifts that enabled the future to be what it became.

As we look into the mists of tomorrow, what future do we see?  What we can see does not bode well. 

The issues we face today are more than those that arise from our lack of concern for the environment.  The pandemic has exposed our lack of concern for those with whom we share this planet.  And it is evident that the lives of everyone on this planet are tied to the condition of this world.

We are reminded that as descendants of Adam and Eve, we have inherited the task of caring for God’s Creation.  And quite honestly, it would seem we haven’t done a good job in that regard. 

In 1974, the writer Ursula Le Guin wrote,

My world, my Earth is a ruin. A planet spoiled by the human species. We multiplied and fought and gobbled until there was nothing left, and then we died. We controlled neither appetite nor violence; we did not adapt. We destroyed ourselves. But we destroyed the world first.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed (1974) (from Verse & Voice, 9/17/21)

We have seen the consequences of not caring for this world.  What was the Hudson River like some twenty years ago?  What was the quality of air in New York City?  Even today, we are still dealing with the consequences of our thoughts that we can bury our waste or throw it into the rivers or oceans.

And we do not need the myriad reports telling us that climate change is real, for all we must do is reflect on the changes we have seen in the past few years. 

Despite the claims of some, climate change is real and the result of what we, the inhabitants of this planet, have done. 

Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (August 2021)

The scientific consensus on climate change is genuine, credible, and robust. It is no wonder that those who have ideological and pecuniary motives for denying the existence of anthropogenic climate change are eager to deny the existence, extent, and legitimacy of the scientific consensus, and that these denials threaten the integrity of public science education. Likewise, it is no wonder that the integrity of public science education both demands and benefits from a vigorous assertion, explanation, and defense of the scientific consensus on climate change.

Glenn Branch, Deputy Director, National Center for Science Education, Inc. in “Teaching Climate Change by Leveraging Scientific Consensus to Dispel Social Controversy”, California Journal of Science Education (https://journal.cascience.org)

What are we doing to alleviate the conditions that lead to poverty and injustice?  Do we find ways to put into practice the tasks that Jesus laid before the people that day some 2000 years ago in the Nazareth synagogue? (Luke 4: 18)

I do not know what gifts you received for Christmas, but I do know what gifts you received when you opened your heart, soul, and mind to Christ.  Some received the gift of teaching; others received the gift of prophesy.  Some will use their gifts to heal others or find ways to encourage others.  Some will use their gifts to help others through counseling and understanding.  Each person will find a way to use the gifts that they received when they accepted the Presence of the Lord in our lives.

We stand at the crossroads of time.  One path leads to a future of destruction and despair; the other path leads to a future of hope, renewal, and promise.  How we use our gifts will decide what path we take.

Borrowing a thought from fifty years ago and with acknowledgement to Reinhold Niebuhr (I first posted this on Facebook on 18 August 2019),

Are we so deaf that we cannot hear the cries of the people, no matter who they are?

Are we so blind that we cannot see the damage we are doing to this planet, our home?

Are we so dumb that we will never learn that what we do changes the future, in ways we cannot understand?

Today, I pray that we will open our ears and hear the cries of the people. I pray that we will respond.

Today, I pray that we will open our eyes and see new ways, new roads to the future.

Today, I pray that we will open our minds and let the power of the Holy Spirit empower us to use our gifts of mind and heart to make sure that we can walk the new roads to the future.

Saturday Morning Worship @ Grannie Annie’s Kitchen, Grace UMC (Newburgh, NY)

During the 2012 Advent season, we began a worship service prior to breakfast. As the New Year begins, we are going to continue this worship. If you are interested in participating in the worship service, contact me at TonyMitchellPhD (at) optimum.net. I have included the lectionary readings for the Sundays in January so that you can think about this. Because of the time frame, we ask that you pick one of the lectionary readings and prepare your message on that reading. Looking forward to hearing the many voices of United Methodists during 2013 at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen. Oh, and you get breakfast

Tomorrow, New Year’s Day, Grannie Annie’s Kitchen will be open from 11 to 1 for soup, bread, and other “goodies”. Come and join us in friendship and fellowship at Grace UMC (Newburgh, NY)

Worship from 8 to 8:30; Breakfast from 8:30 to 9:45

January 5th – Epiphany of the Lord – Isaiah 60: 1 – 6; Ephesians 3: 1 – 12; Matthew 2: 1 – 12

January 12th – Baptism of the Lord – Isaiah 43: 1 – 7; Acts 8: 14 – 17; Luke 3: 15 – 17, 21 – 22

January 19th – 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany – Isaiah 62: 1 – 5; 1 Corinthians 12: 1 – 11; John 2: 1 – 11

A New Understanding” – Tony Mitchell, Grace UMC (Newburgh)

January 26th – 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany – Nehemiah 8: 1 – 3, 5 – 6, 8 – 10; 1 Corinthians 12: 12 – 31; Luke 4: 14 – 21

Parts of the Church” – Tony Mitchell, Grace UMC (Newburgh)

“I See the Light”

Here are my thoughts for Epiphany Sunday, 3 January 2010. The Scriptures for today are Isaiah 60: 1 – 6, Ephesians 3: 1 – 12, and Matthew 2: 1 – 12.


This is an interesting Sunday as far as the lectionary goes. We have gone from Christ’s birth on Christmas Eve to his journey to the temple when He was twelve and now have gone back to the time when the Magi arrive with their gifts. Following the lectionary can at times be confusing but what fun would we have if it was straight forward and simple?

In that vein, I took the title for this message from an old 60s song, “I See The Light” by the Five Americans but I will tell you that I will use the the old Gospel song, “I saw the light” at the end of this message.

The word “epiphany” has two meanings in my life. The first, of course, is today when, by tradition, the wise men came to visit Jesus. The second meaning has a more scientific meaning, as when someone suddenly understands the meaning behind an event or a discovery. It is, if you will, what has been termed “the AHA moment”.

It is a moment that we all have experienced at some point in our lives, a moment when a difficult problem suddenly becomes very clear and we wonder why we didn’t understand it before. But to get to that point, we have to be involved with the study of the problem and the mechanics of solving it. And that is where we, as a society, are quickly failing.

We don’t want to do the work that will enable us to solve problems. We apply the same old answers to new solutions. The answers to the economic crisis over the past several years have been expressed in terms of supporting the systems that caused the crisis in the first place rather than helping those were suffering. The answer to the problems of healthcare in this country was seen in only a continuation of the same system instead of insuring that people had real healthcare. The answers to the problems of terrorism only seek to increase the terrorism, not end it. If the links to the aborted Christmas Day bombing on the Northwest flight are to be found in Yemen, attacking Yemen will not stop future terrorism.

The problem is that we are not willing to go that extra step that is needed; we are not willing to push the boundaries necessary to learn something new. The wise men were men of learning and they spent their time learning about the world around them. Something happened to disturb the world that they were observing; but instead of simply making note of the event, they investigated it. And that required they leave the “laboratory” and venture westward to where the star pointed them.

But we are too often like King Herod, reluctant to accept new ideas or information, choosing instead to hold to the one ways and the old ideas. While our reactions may not be as violent as Herod’s, our reluctance to accept new ideas is about the same. Why is it that we think that rebuilding the banks that trashed the economic system will make things better? Why do we think the only kinds of jobs that we can create are traditional jobs rebuilding the infrastructure? Why is it that healthcare is predicated on one’s economic status? Why, when we know the causes of terrorism, do we insist on doing things that only feed terrorism?

Maybe we need to encounter Christ as Paul did on the road to Damascus. Maybe, instead of seeing things through our old eyes, we need to be blinded by the light as Paul was. And when our eyes open again, maybe we will see the world through different eyes, in a different light.

As Isaiah told the people, perhaps we should look up and look around! And if we do, then we shall see a new world, a new world of hope and promise. This new vision, this new light is echoed in the words of Paul. In Christ, we have the new vision, the new light.

As Paul pointed out to the Ephesians, the older generations didn’t have that insight. They were locked into a vision that saw the solution in the old ways. But in the vision of Christ we can see new solutions.

When the wise men came to Christ, they were filled with excitement. It was not simply that they had come upon the Christ child but that their visions had given them insight into a new world. And we know that their lives changed because they took a different way home. They understood the meaning of the message of the angels that to return to Herod was to destroy all that they had done.

We cannot but wonder if they didn’t take the message of Christ’s birth to the people where they lived. But instead of wondering, we should follow their example.

We have the vision; we have seen the light. And we know what the light brings. No longer are we limited by the old ways, Perhaps as this new year begins, we can see new solutions that focus on all the people, not just those who already have and want more. Each year we pray for peace in this world and perhaps this year we can find that peace through the Gospel message, to feed the hungry and heal the sick, to free the oppressed and bring hope to the forgotten people of the planet. Because to do otherwise will turn the clock back, not forward.

We have the opportunity, let us rejoice.

“I Saw The Light”

Be It Resolved

This is the message I presented on the Epiphany of the Lord (4 January 2004) at Tompkins Corners UMC.  I used the Scriptures for the New Year instead of the lectionary for the Epiphany of the Lord (Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 13, Revelation 21: 1 – 6, and Matthew 25: 31 – 46).


This is the time of year when we look at things past and things yet to come. But time is a fleeting thing, and looking forward is difficult to do. There are many shows that will speak of things yet to come during the coming year but very few of these shows will come back next year and talk about how their predictions came out.

There are those who would say that John the Evangelist saw the future in his writing of the Book of Revelation. But John was writing to a group of Christians in seven different churches, each with their own problems, each with their own cares. His was not a prediction of the future but a warning of what was to come unless changes were made.

John didn’t see an end to time but rather the cause of time. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” was not a statement coming at the end of time but rather a statement of continuation. John recognized that God’s time and presence were continual while ours was not. We may not see much in the future to come but God is the future and in that future we have hope.

At the time that John wrote the Book of Revelations, Christians were experiencing the first of many persecution. To the readers, especially in the seven churches to whom the Book was directed, it was necessary to give them hope and show that there was a promise for the future.

And that is why the Preacher writes about time. The Preacher, as the author of Ecclesiastes is commonly known, saw time in passages and seasons, in moments when one should think, pause, and consider. Life was not simply a collection of bits and pieces of things done and yet to be done. Rather, life was a balance of actions and tasks.

The Preacher knew that life was futile when it was seen as a collection of things solely measured by time. Life was more than chasing after things that would not exist beyond the moment of the chase; life was more than a measure of the time we are on this planet. The Preacher knew and wrote that if we see life only in terms of what we have done, we can never even begin to see beyond today. Putting things into categories does keep things in order but it does little to help us see or understand God’s purpose.

Though we would like to even begin understanding God’s purpose, we cannot even begin to comprehend what it might be. But that should not stop us from trying. That is the very essence of the difference between our souls and us. We have been made in God’s image so we have an inborn inquisitiveness to find out about external realities. By coming to know our Creator, we can find our peace. The whole prelude to the reading of Ecclesiastes for today shows that without that purpose, all is folly.

All we can see are the micro-moments of our own existence in the grand span of eternity. But those moments give us a glimpse of what is to come. The Scriptures call us to live a life in robust faith, even during times of trial and pain. For we know that in the grand scheme of things God will make everything beautiful.

But therein lies the problem. We don’t like the idea that our time is limited. We don’t like the notion that in the grand scheme of things we are simply a blip in the passage of time. We are so caught up in our battles with time, we forget about others. Jesus spoke of the people missing Him when He was tired, poor, hungry, and homeless. But the people didn’t even know what he was talking about. “When did we see you hungry, or tired, or poor, or homeless?” they asked.

The Gospel message for today is interesting. It speaks of the Second Coming of Christ but it does not give a time when one might expect it to happen. And that is the point.

Jesus said we would never know the day, the hour, the time or the place of His coming. But our preparations should not be limited because we do not know; rather, our preparations should increase. It is easy to say that we are prepared but are we?

What would happen if someone came up to you and asked for help getting a bit to eat? What would happen if someone came up to you and asked you for a ride someplace down the road? Would you help them get the food they needed? Would you give them the ride?

It isn’t likely that such things are going to happen to you every day but it begs the question as to how you treat people you meet every day? How do you treat the people around you? Do you treat them the way you wish to be treated? Or is your treatment conditional? Do you treat them well when they do things for you?

It is very simple; our preparation of Christ is not based on apocalyptic visions or our random acts of kindness to strangers. It is based on what we do each day to those people whom we are in contact with every day.

That is why I make such a big deal about reaching out to those who are members of this church but are not here on a regular basis. But it has to be more than simply my sending letters to them. Because the letters that I send are the letters of a pastor, warning members of what will happen if they do not take action. But the words that come from the membership tell those individuals that they are in fact missed and that they are still considered a part of the community.

There really is no way that we can determine what will happen if we ignore these inactive members. But a church that does not care for its own will slowly die. A church that does not show care or concern for its own cannot show care or concern for others.

And if there is to be a Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church in 2005, it will be because there was an effort made to reach out to those in the community and try and bring them back in. Like those who heard the words of Jesus but did not know when they had missed their opportunity, so too will the opportunities for the growth of this church be fleeting and quickly gone if one is not careful.

We begin each year with resolutions, actions that we want to take that will make us better. I hope that the members of this church will resolve to reach out to the other members of this church who are not here and say to them, “You are still a part of this community and you are missed.”

John was writing at a time when the future was bleak, when the whole idea of Christianity was in doubt. But he saw hope for the future; he saw knew that God would be there. The Preacher wrote at a time when he thought his future was bleak; when he could see no purpose for living. But he saw hope; he saw that in all there was and would be God would be there. He gave him hope.

Jesus pointed out that He was here around and among us. Our hope and future lie in our ability to bring His presence into our lives and into the lives of others. I would hope and pray that we resolved to carry that mission into the future as well.