SERMON PREACHED BY THE REV’D PETER D’ALESANDRE, VICAR OF GRACE CHURCH, YANTIC, CONNECTICUT,
AT THE CHURCH OF THE ADVENT,
JANUARY 6, 2011, THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to worship him."
And there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.
On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and worshipped him.
Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Matthew 2 
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I really love the the Wise Men.

I know, I know,
we don't know how many they were and they were not Kings.
Nor multi-ethnic nor multi-racial.
None wore a turban as far as we know,

and in a moment, I'm going to cast doubt upon they're being Persian Astrologers from Iran as we so frequently hear.

But little as we know about them, I feel as if I personally know them.

I love the image of these travel-weary , somewhat confused intellectuals
making their way to whatever humble place Our Lord lay
with their gifts- so apparently inappropriate for the child of a carpenter---
and worshiping.

And, YES, I think they were historical.
If they were merely a literary device to legitimatize the inclusion of Gentiles in the Church, it would have gone all the way to numbering them (probably 12) and ascribing different gentile origins to each.

I can see them bringing gifts from afar and kneeling down in worship

Why bring gifts?
Because that is how you treated a King.

You bring tribute.
To pay homage.
Valuable goods from your native region.

The frieze of the tribute bearers in the ruined Hall of the Persepolis palace of the Persian Kings of Kings.

Egyptian Temple walls have painted reliefs of foreigners bringing gifts to Pharaoh. Gold, precious ores,wild animals, foods, rare woods, entertainers.

In 1793,the Qian Long Emperor of China refused Lord McCartney's gifts because he assumed it was a request for Britain to be incorporated into China's Empire which would have been inconvenient and unnecessary for China.

The most comic example ( and I can't resist telling you this) is in the movie “Land of the Pharaohs”.All of the ambassadors present their gifts to Pharaoh Jack Hawkins,
until they get to the Ambassador from Cyprus, played by Joan Collins.
Joan says “my country's greatest treasure for tribute is ME,
you lucky Pharaoh, you”.
He accepts and her ambition brings ruin and death to all involved.

The last five minutes of the movie are best. You can find it on YouTube.
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So what were the wise men and from where did they come?

I don't know and I question those who claim to know.
While we get from Old French the word “MAGI' (NOT from Farsi)
St. Matthew in Greek calls them MAGOI, singular magos,
(and one of only a few appearances of the word in Scripture and the Fathers).

Not uncommon in other Greek writings which call Persian Zoroastrian clergy “magoi” but 400 years before.

But the Persian Empire had long before been conquered by Parthian horsemen,
And Zoroastrianism continued with much reduced adherence,

In the Hellenistic World of the New Testament, the term “magoi” was used as much to refer to generic wizards as well as illusionists and charlatans.
Less Gandalf and more Doug Hemming.
And this is the way it is used in other New Testament places.
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But whoever they were, whatever they were,
notice that they arrived at the Right Place.
Judea.
Whatever their Astronomical, Mystical, or whatever other knowledge they had, they DID arrive at their destination.
At the right time.
It took courage endurance, and most of all conviction in their mission.

To undertake such a trip was admirable

A trip of time, expense, danger,,uncertainty, and hardship

Not hunters, not merchants, not explorers,
Neither Rangers nor Long Range Reconnaisence Patrol grunts.
not Hard Men, but thinkers,---worshipers.

Admirable.
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perhaps moving for us
And I believe especially symbolic to certain people.

To people who have made a long and difficult passage from unbelief
or from a religious outlook and practice that seemed a torment,
you-- like the Wise Men,--
have finally arrived from afar to see the face of the Lord Jesus

who is harmless enough to live as an infant in a human family.
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Or perhaps, YOU are one who has come from afar in a different sense tonight. And I don't mean from Rhode Island,

Perhaps you have come here from a long-standing problem,
or you have traveled afar from a vocational situation
or tangle of relationships

that seems to be inconceivable
that it might exist in the same reality
as the Peace, beauty, order, and civility of the Eucharist,
the Eucharist at the Advent.

And you must return to that world afar off--- tomorrow, or even later tonight.

Rest while you can.
Pray shamelessly to God tonight,
for help, Grace, or release
but don't let it override the Presence and Adoration of Our Lord.
You don't need to find a perfect solution before the last hymn.
BE present to God so God can be present to you
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And let me volunteer the pastoral care of your clergy.
They work cheap----but only in terms of money
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At the Eucharist
We open our three gifts-
candid repentance for our sins
the financial produce of our life, in whatever percentage
and whatever adoration and love our present state of Faith will sustain
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I watch the Offertory Procession of Elements and Alms, begun by the congregation, led by the deacon, completed by the celebrant.

I was here last Epiphany, sitting in the congregation, and the procession went on past me,
I thought then of the Wise Men coming from afar to bring gifts in worship.
I can almost see a turban or kaffiyah on the ushers and servers
And hear the ringing of Camel bells as they pass.

Come from afar with gifts Our daily lives-
sometimes far,
sometimes close
to what happens here
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These are not only our gifts of homage.
-----Gifts of tribute,
but our gifts of fealty
– Commitment
—by which you and I fix upon God,
our future allegiance and discipleship.