Maybe it’s because I’ve directed too many Christmas pageants, but when I hear the story of the Magi visiting the baby Jesus, I don’t think of three kings at all. No visions of regal visitors decked out in their finest riding atop camels guided by a star for me. Just memories of little boys, decked out in colourful shiny robes that threaten to trip them up, giggling and roughhousing, with their cardboard crowns askew. Of all the little boy kings that I’ve tried to corral one of them stands out from all the rest. Perhaps I remember him so well because he was so little that we couldn’t have him knell at the manger for fear that he would disappear into the hay and our audience would only see two Wise Guys paying homage. Or maybe it was the speed with which he dashed in and out of the gang of shepherds who threatened to trip him up with their crooks. But I really think it was the ingenious way he solved the problem of his lost gold, that makes little, for the purposes of this sermon let’s call him Jay, stand out from all the other little boy kings.
Little Jay’s mother, like all the mothers of all the kings, was responsible for creating a facsimile of the gift her wise son would bestow on the baby Jesus. Unlike some of the feeble efforts that I’ve seen over the years, Jay’s gift of gold was a cut above the rest. Inside an elaborately carved box that his Dad had picked up on his travels to the Middle East, Jay’s mother had placed upon a bed of statin a carefully created block of wood wrapped in golden gift paper. It positively sparkled. It must have impressed Jay, because he was forever opening up his box to show his fellow cast-members his treasure. During the dress rehearsal, Jay’s performance was perfect. Jay positively perfected the art of gazing up at the makeshift star that hung above the altar just east of our makeshift manger. When he arrived at the place where the newborn baby Jesus, who just happened to be a little girl that year, Jay strode right up to her mother Mary and opened the box containing his treasure and proudly announced his gift of gold for the new born king. They, whoever they are, say that if the rehearsal doesn’t go well then the performance will be wonderful. So, I was more than a little worried when our dress rehearsal went off so splendidly because that could mean only one thing, and I wasn’t looking forward to a performance where things went wrong. Sure enough, unbeknownst to me, on the morning of his big performance, somewhere between his home and church, Jay lost his golden treasure. All he had was an empty box when he showed up at his father’s pew wailing because all was lost. Jay had no gold to give to the baby Jesus.
This story reminds me of a story that Joan Chittister tells that I’ve told you before but like all good stories it is worth telling over and over again. It’s the story of a Sufi master who was found scratching through the sand in the middle of the road. “What are you doing?” some pilgrims asked the Sufi as they passed. The old Sufi looked up and said, “I’m looking for my treasure. I’ve lost it.” the old man said. So the pilgrims, good people all dropped to their knees to help. They sifted sand. They dug under stones. They sweat under the waxing midday sun. Until, finally, hungry, soaking wet and exhausted, one of the travellers asked of the Sufi, “Sufi, are you sure you lost your treasure here?” And the old man said, “Oh, no. No, I didn’t loose my treasure here, I lost it over there on the other side of those mountains.”
The pilgrims looked at him with a kind of a growing, creeping despair and said, “Well if you lost it on the other side of the mountains, why in the name of Allah are you searching for it here?” And the old man said, “I’m looking for it here because there is more light here.”
So many of us, find ourselves searching for lost treasures. We have been trained to expect that that which we lost will be exactly where we left it, or at the very least somewhere close to where we left it. We return to the place where we think we last held on to the treasure that made our lives better. The only problem is that all too often our treasure has moved and our hopes of finding it right where we left it are nothing more than vain longings, because that treasure that we lost is no longer where we’d expect to find it. Too many of us gaze up into the sky desperately seeking a star that will shed the light we need to illuminate our problems.
But the light we need, the light that once worked for us, is not to be found up there in the sky, and even if it were to be found in a star, we need more than starlight to illumine our way. We need a more intense light, a brighter light than some far off distant star if we are to find our treasure; the treasure that will enable us to live our lives more fully alive. So, we must return to the story and shift our gaze from the heavens and look more closely at the Wise Ones who traveled to greet the newborn Christ child. It’s difficult to see past the star. We know this story so very well that it’s almost impossible to find a new way of seeing. Think of most of the nativity scenes you’ve ever seen and there they are three kings, holding three gifts huddled, kneeling, bowing, offering their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. I’d always thought of these wise guys selecting their gifts before they left Persia. I mean they’ve seen a star in the sky, that portends the arrival of a newborn king and they stop what they are doing and leave their lives behind to follow that star. But what if they came without gifts to give. I’ve done it. We’ve all been there. You arrive at some event or other and you realize that you should have brought a gift. So you look around your car or in your purse and you find something anything to give; finding nothing you might have to pop into the nearest drugstore or grocery store, whatever is open what ever is handy to find something anything to give.
Now three wise guys setting out on a long journey, would of course have brought along some treasures; if only to trade with the locals for necessities. So, what if it went down like this:
They’d arrived, and there he was this beautiful newborn child in which lay the hopes and dreams of a world gone mad with violence, greed and lust for power; this little child was the hope of the world.
Touched, moved, overwhelmed by their encounter with the beauty of this child in the midst of the poverty and insanity of the world, they reached into their respective treasures and gave what they had as gifts for the child; generosity born in these wise ones as a result of an encounter with the beauty of a newborn child. Giving the most precious gift they have as a result of being overcome by hope for a future filled with something other than what has always been.
Little Jay was overcome with grief over the loss of his gift of gold. What could he possible do? There was no time to go home and make another gold bullion. The nativity play would be ruined. All was lost. He’d looked everywhere he’d been. He couldn’t find the treasure he was expected to give. It was not where he had left it. So, Jay’s Dad did the only thing he could do, he dug down deep into his own treasure to find a gift to give. He opened his wallet and looked at the bills; money, perhaps a few twenties would do the trick; modern gold? And then he saw it; the most precious treasure of all. It was a bit battered from its time spent in his wallet but it was after all his most valuable treasure; so he placed it in Jay’s box so it could be given to the newborn Jesus.
When the time came, Jay bowed regally before the babe and little Emma smiled up at him, as he proudly lifted the lid of his beautifully carved box and offered up the treasure that lay inside. The audience couldn’t see what I saw, but it was a treasure more valuable than gold. For nestled there upon a bed of satin, was a slightly worn photograph of Jay. What gift could be more precious that the gift of one’s self?
We spend too much time looking to the heavens convinced that our treasure lies there waiting to be bestowed upon us by some king in the sky. The truth rests more securely closer than we have ever imagined. Our treasure cannot be found looking up into the heavens. Our treasure lies deep inside of our being. Our treasure lies waiting to be given to a world in need of such treasures, as we have to give.
Shift your gaze from the heavens for the light of the world shines forth from you. Look around you and you will see the Light of the World in your neighbours. You are the light of the world oh people!!! Shine forth, for the world has need of your treasures. You may not be prepared, you may not think your ready, but deep within you lie the treasures this world needs, creation is waiting for you. The most profound words spoken in any nativity pageant are the words, “do not be afraid”….”fear not”.
We’ve spent far too long looking into the heavens for treasure. The light is over here; and here; and here; in you and you and you, and me. There’s a quotation that has often been credited to Nelson Mandela, but it was actually written by activist Marianne Williamson. It speaks to the world’s need of our very selves. Williamson writes:
What holds us back in our lives is our fear.
And sometimes when you take a very close look
you find out that your fears
aren’t exactly what you thought they were.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves,
who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest
the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
So it’s holy work to move past your own fear.
It doesn’t just help you.
It helps the world.
I suspect that Williamson’s words speak to us so profoundly because we’ve all said to ourselves: who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Humility is all well and good, except when it gets in the way of generosity so when you hear yourself saying to yourself who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Remember to say right back to yourself: Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Fear not, dear ones. For you are children of God. The treasure you seek to give lies not in the heavens, but here, deep inside. Open yourselves up and give the world the treasures creation needs. You are the light of the world. Shine! Shine! Shine!