Treasure Box

Matthew 2:1-12

Ephesians 3:1-12

Fox Valley Presbyterian Church

Sunday Before Epiphany

It’s been over a week since you ripped open those treasure boxes under the tree. And for the most part, you know exactly what’s in them. And now you have  a sense of how much you will actually use the gift. What each gift might mean, what it might really be for, which toy is your favorite, which gift you will return, which gift you wish you could return but can’t, what use you will get out of a gift, what you really love, which gifts you will remember forever, and what you will forget in a few weeks.

For those of you who are bummed out that the gift-giving is over, here’s an idea for a second shot at it (we might want to keep this a secret from retailers and marketers!):  in some Christian traditions the gift giving happens not on Christmas, but on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany…when we remember the arrival of the wise men and their gifts.

Now, there’s a whole lot to talk about with the wise men. The details: (Were there really 3? And did they actually make it to the stable? How far away were they from? Was Jesus probably a toddler by this time?) The whole Herod thing: (what a terrible guy…the awful story of what he did…) The theological significance of these foreign visitors honoring a Hebrew king…

But this morning we are just going to peek into the treasure boxes.

Imagine what happens when Mary and Joseph unwrap these gifts: sitting in their home, probably one room with the carpentry tools stowed on one side and the kitchen on the other, and these marvelous magi admiring the toddler Jesus. And in the boxes and chests they set out are…gold…frankincense…and myrrh. Whatever they mean, they are riches that this little family of craftsmen in a tiny backwater town have never set hands on or even imagined.

Enough to ease their lives for a few years. And enough to make the mystery of who their child really was even greater.

Enough for them to wonder what to do with it…there was no need for a college fund, no such thing as an IRA or a stock portfolio. Could they invest in flocks of sheep? Maybe it meant another room added onto the house or money for an extra cow or goat.

But what did it mean?

Luke’s gospel sums up the story of Jesus’ infancy with this: “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

I imagine they had to treasure away a few pieces of gold, maybe behind a mud brick loosened from the wall of the house, and it sat there much the same way the strange events of Jesus birth and early years sat in Mary’s heart.

That’s the thing about some gifts…there are some that you just don’t really understand until later on. Some that change meaning as the years go on. Some gifts start out as one thing and turn into another. Gifts can take on different meaning.

When I was about 10, my great grandparents bought everyone of their great grandkids a Bible, engraved with our names.

I think I knew it was important at the time, because I handed it back to my Great Grandpa Hank and asked him to write in the front that he and Great Grandma Alberta had given to me. (I guess, with over a dozen great grandkids, writing us each a  note was a step they understandably skipped)

When I was little, I thought the pictures in the Bible were too babyish for me. When I was a teenager,  I learned to loved the words, but wished I had a more grown up Bible for youth group. When my Grandma Alberta died a few years later it meant more. When Grandpa Hank died my freshman year of college, it meant even more.  When I stood on my Great-Grandparents grave to say prayers and help bury my grandmother right next to them, that Bible became irreplaceable.

So, did Mary remember, when she was helping to prepare Jesus’ body for burial, when the other women went to the market to get the embalming spices, the myrrh and the frankincense, that once, years ago, she had taken to market to exchange for the money? The frankincense and myrrh that had been a baby gift for her son?

And the mystery of everything that has happened is bigger than the treasure boxes of the wise men, the little treasure box of Mary’s heart…because the gifts of the season are not comfy sweaters or uggs or zhu zhu pets or Wiis or food processors…the gifts are not the boxes of gold and frankincense and myrrh…the gifts are not eve the amazing birth and surprising stories that Mary and Joseph pondered and treasured…

The gift is Jesus. And we say it too often that we forget…the gift is Jesus, baby born in Bethlehem, but also Emmanuel,  God-among-us.

In Ephesians, Paul reminds us…it is not the gift of a cute and cuddly Baby.

This is a gift of cosmic significance.

So it may begin meaning simply that God affirms the life-giving love and care of a kind mother, the bright beauty of a baby.

But the meaning of the gift, the mystery of it, grows and grows each time we look in the treasure box.

This is a mystery: that God should grow in a woman’s belly,

This is a mystery: that God should be born among us…

This is a mystery: that the stars and angels should sing…

This is a mystery: that everyone from shepherds to wealthy men should come…

This is a mystery: that God would walk with us, pray with us, suffer for us…

This is a mystery: that God would save us  from ourselves by becoming one of us, in such a strange and remarkable way.

This is a mystery. Unfolding and unfurling. Stretching out over time and space.

And every time we open the treasure box, we will see it a new way, in a way that changes everything we thought we knew, over and over again.

It is mystery. It is epiphany. It is a great and mighty wonder.

It is the greatest of all treasures.

So, keep seeking, keep pondering, keep taking it out of the box…

God-among-us, God-one-of-us, Savior of the World, Creator of the Universe, word made flesh…

…the world will never be the same.

One Response to “Treasure Box”

  1. Meika Says:

    Erica, this is beautiful.