By The Rev. Herman R. Yoos, III, Bishop of the South Carolina Synod
What do the three traditional gifts of the Magi have to do with a goat, a kanga wrap and a hand-held plough? At first glance, one might say nothing at all, but based on our experiences in the South-Western Diocese of Tanzania this November, I would say they are expressions of the same human need to give back to God gifts that honor the Christ Child.
Don’t you love the Epiphany story of the three Magi who set out on a long journey following a heavenly sign that led them to Jesus? We don’t really know where they came from. Some scholars would suggest the area of modern Iraq or Iran. We don’t know what these star gazers saw in the sky. Some suggest a comet or an alignment of three planets which would stand out against a dark night sky. We don’t know how many miles they traveled or when they actually arrived in Bethlehem.
The one thing we do know that connects our lives to these ancient travelers is that we share with them the same spiritual need to give of ourselves to the one who has given us everything we have and need.
The Message version of Romans 12:1-2 reads, “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking around life – and place it before God as an offering. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without thinking. Instead fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.”
Sometimes we forget that what God wants most from us is not only our tithes and offerings on Sunday morning but our whole selves, our everyday lives lived out in loving relationships with God and neighbor.
I received a letter from a former member who used to sing in the choir thanking me for asking her to visit home-bound members and to take them Holy Communion. She said, “You didn’t realize it, but God used those experiences to help me find my calling. She now visits and cares for Alzheimer’s patients where she sings hymns and other songs and gets them to sing with her. She wrote to me, “I just want to thank you for getting me on the path that has led me to this new ministry.” Like the Magi, she is rejoicing in being able to give of herself and her love of music as a daily offering to Christ our Lord.
Several weeks ago, I heard a talk by the State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Molly Spearman, at a LARCUM event. She was asked the question, “What gives you the confidence to live out your faith daily?” Her answer was, “I pray every morning to be in God’s will and that God would give me the wisdom to be faithful in doing this work before me.” Then she said, “I also spend more time in the morning reading and studying the scriptures than I used to.” When she was asked about the separation of church and state, she answered, “I tell church volunteers that you are not permitted to talk about Jesus in our schools, but there is nothing to prevent you from talking like Jesus, acting like Jesus and loving like Jesus.” Isn’t that the kind of daily living and giving of oneself daily that we all need to put into practice in this New Year ahead?
So what do a goat, a kanga wrap and a hand-held plough have to do with the precious gifts offered to our newborn king by the Magi? The goat was presented to us by the villages of Nungu right after we dedicated four safe water wells with payers rejoicing and singing. A goat is a highly prized gift in the South-Western Diocese, so we felt deeply honored and thankful for their sacrificial act of love. A kanga wrap is a beautiful cloth wrap that women in Africa use to make a dress. This was also presented to us by the villagers of Matamba as a sign of their thankfulness for five safe water wells.
Finally, the hand-held plough was presented at the end of a three-hour worship and ordination service of two new pastors in the diocese. The bishop said to these new ordinands, “This gift is to remind you of two things: First, Jesus said the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few, so go share God’s word wherever you go; second, don’t forget to use it to tend your own gardens and to grow food for your families.”
Now none of us knows what joys and challenges we will experience in this New Year ahead. In the midst of an uncertain world that is prone to sin, violence and self-destruction, we are people of faith, hope and love because of the light of Christ that shines in and through all the dark and hurting places of our world. Like the Magi, we continually seek to be led on our journey every day by the light of Christ Jesus our Lord. And as we freely offer ourselves daily in acts of loving and giving to others, then like these wise men, we go on our way rejoicing and praising God.
In Jesus name,
Herman R. Yoos