Three gifts to the Christ-child

An old man goes into a book shop and makes an enquiry. No luck. He goes into another book shop. No joy. He goes from shop to shop searching in vain for his quarry. Finally he goes home and makes a telephone call to another bookstore. He enquires if they have a copy of Fly Fishing by J.R. Hartley. He is delighted to find they do and gives his name: J.R.Hartley. ‘Good Old Yellow Pages’, the advert tells us. 

In its day Yellow Pages was promoted as a way of saving us time and energy. ‘Let your fingers do the walking,’ the adverts used to say.  Searching has been reduced these days to the pressing of buttons to search the internet. Much time, frustration and shoe leather have been saved thereby. The Yellow Pages is now a thin shadow of its former self, and has its own online version called ‘Yell’.

That which we used to consider normal is soon made redundant by a change in habits and technology.

The Magi had no maps to guide them, let alone satellite navigation, but they journeyed in faith guided by an astrological feature, a bright star. They too would have their way of thinking made redundant, neither Christianity nor Islam would have any place for astrology.

Their journey would have been long and arduous. It was perilous as they entered the palace of the murderous and paranoid King Herod. But eventually they found what they were looking for, they were overcome with joy as they fell to their knees to worship the child Jesus and present their gifts. The long search would have made the finding all the more rapturous.

We do not have to search for Christ, for we know he is here in gospel and in sacrament. But what is our response to him? To him who is the way, the truth and the life. What are the gifts that we might present to him? 

Might I suggest to you three things that we might present to Christ at his Epiphany.

First: honesty. The truth is no longer sacred. It should be because it is part of the divine nature. God is the ultimate truth. The truth is ever distorted to suit the ends of individuals. In some countries the truth is manipulated by governments and state broadcasters. Within days of each other here in parliament the Prime Minister said that the state deficit had been reduced by a third and the Chancellor by a half. Both cannot be right, but grand pronouncements trip easily off the tongue. Honesty is vital to the Christian. We must always be truthful and if we cannot speak the truth then we should remain silent.

Secondly we might present to our Lord, faithfulness. We must be faithful to him, who is always faithful to us. We must be faithful in our worship, our prayer and our service. He never fails us, our worship must not be reduced to a leisure activity that we pursue when there are no other demands on our time. We must pray when we want to and when we don’t. If we are religious people then we keep to a rule of life, and whatever that rule is, we must stick to it, to the best of our ability. The Jewish people understand this by literally binding the law to their foreheads in phylacteries.

Thirdly we might present to our Lord, integrity. That Christ might be stamped through us like the letters in a stick of Blackpool rock. If we are people of integrity then our faith will govern how we behave in the whole of our lives. We don’t switch on and off our Christian faith. We should be governed by the rule that we always treat other people as we would wish to be treated ourselves. Not sometimes, not often, but always. That means imagining what it is like to be that other person in a different situation to our own. It is through prayer that we can discern God’s will for us with regard to other people. It is faith and love that together make us people of integrity.

The Magi thought about what they might give the new-born King before they set off on their journey, they did not rummage through the baggage on their camels when they reached Bethlehem and produce a lump of musty myrrh with fluff on it.

We have Christ here, we do not have to go far to search for him, we have it easy, but the question of how we respond to him is as challenging as ever. The question is there before us always but especially at the start of a New Year.  What will we give him, what will we do for him in the course of this year?