Several people asked if I would post the transcript of my sermon since the first three minutes of the video were lost. I must admit, it doesn’t all quite make sense without the beginning. So here you are:
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
(Said in a somber, stentorian tone.)
It was during the time of President Reagan. The feasts of Thanksgiving, our wedding, Christmas and New Year’s had passed. I awaited my new assignment as a chaplain intern. And lo, my supervisor said unto to me, “Thou shalt spend the last six months of thy residency in pediatrics. I have received a request to see a patient named Simon. Go and search carefully for this child. As soon as you find him, report to me—so that I may keep tabs on you.”
And so I went unto the nurses on Pediatrics and asked, “Where can I find this child called Simon?”
And they replied, “Oh, yes, he is a Star on this unit because he has been here so long.” And hearing that, I fell to my knees because longterm kids know the system and can be really crafty and demanding.
(Spoken in a conversational tone.)
And behold, I found Simon. He was five years old and in the hospital for a seizure disorder. He wore hearing aids in both ears, thick glasses and a gigantic smile. He was sitting up in bed playing with a shoebox that was on his tray table.
Hi,” he shouted. “Who are you?” He didn’t give me a moment before shouting, “What’s your name?”
I told him my name and approached his bed. “Sit on the bed! Then we can play.” So I sat on his bed and looked into the shoe box. On one end of the box sat a bunch of curly gold ribbon. On the other end was a Hershey bar. And it the middle was a Frankenstein doll. Someone had either knitted or crocheted it. It had the high forehead, a green complexion, bolts through the head, stitched on hands, scars on his face. In spite of all that, there was something sweet about Frankenstein.
“Tell me what’s going on here,” I said. I think all of us know that when you are listening to a child’s story—or even an adult’s story—it’s not polite to correct them. Wait until they are finished. Or maybe don’t correct them at all. With kids it’s sort of like improv—it’s always, Yes and—
So Simon explains to me. “This,” he said patting the shoe box, “is a manger. They took the baby Jesus to a real bed so the Three Kings left gifts in manger for all the visitors who would come on Christmas. And the visitors could pick any gift they wanted.” He pointed to the ribbon, the doll and the candy bar. “This is Gold, Frankenstein and More.”
I could see why he was a Star on this unit.
He went on to tell me that some people need more money so they choose gold; some need more friends so they choose Frankenstein. “And some people need more of whatever is happy! Like chocolate!”
I think there is great value on this interesting perspective on the Epiphany story. I’ve had many years to think about it. So let us ponder this together. My question is, “What gifts are you going to choose?”
What is the Manger gold? Money? Is cash money in and of itself useful? Not really. Paper bills—too much writing to use as scratch paper, not absorbent, doesn’t burn well. You could use a dime as makeshift screwdriver. But other than that—useless. It only means something when we give it to get something in return. So maybe you do need more money to buy food, pay rent, pay your bills. That’s fair.
But this is Manger Gold! What if this kind of gold means it is something you give, and ask for nothing in return. It’s not transactional. The real value is in the giving. Just the giving. It can’t be about the other person’s reaction, either their acceptance or their rejection or their indifference.
Here’s an example. I gave someone a little gift—a pair of socks. And to be really honest with you, I was not feeling excited and delighted as I wrapped it. I actually thought, “I wonder if he’ll thank me. This age group is terrible about thank you notes.”
Okay, so right there—it was transactional. I was hoping for a thank you. I heard nothing. I even had to ask, “So, um, did you like your present?”
“Oh, yeah, thanks.” That is just the worst. Definitely not Manger Gold.
On the other hand, I wrapped presents for a couple other people and was overflowing with joy. “Oh, this is so good. This is so perfect for them. They are so such wonderful friends. I love them so much.” I gave the gifts and then totally forgot about it. Who needed a thank-you when the act of giving was so gratifying? Nothing transactional about it at all.
That was Manger Gold. This kind of gold is pure, unconditional love. I don’t need you to love me back or thank me. Just loving you is enough. Just giving to you is enough. Because we can give without loving, i.e. the socks, but we can’t love without giving—not just material things, but our time, our attention, our support. “We can’t love without giving.” I’m quoting Victor Hugo. He went on to say, “We pardon to the extent we love.”
Ever notice how unforgiving we are with people we don’t love or even like? One person leaves rotting fruit in the community fridge and we’re ready to kill and someone else does, and we say, “Oh, good for compost!” We pardon to the extent we love. So for some of us, we might need Manger Gold to help love more so that we can forgive more.
On the other hand, perhaps we need to be loved unconditionally. We need to be around people who love us without restriction, who get great joy out of loving and giving to us. This is the kind of love Jesus always talks about. “Love one another as I have loved you.” He loved without any conditions. Jesus was filthy rich with Manger Gold.
So Simon saw Frankenstein as a friend. But does that seem obvious to you? Because at first glance Frankenstein, the “monster” is physically repulsive and always trying to kill people. But did you know, that in the original story, The Creature–Frankenstein started out as a nice guy? He hid in the woods and secretly did good deeds for a family who lived in a nearby cottage. Because of how he looked, people assumed that he intended harm and they attacked him and went after him and tried to kill him. Frankenstein became enraged and sought revenge.
So instead of thinking of Frankenstein as nothing but a monster, let me suggest that Manger Frankenstein represents compassion.
What if people had been compassionate, loving, curious? They would have gotten to know him and become friends with him. But no one had compassion for him, or even curiosity!
But here’s the other part of the story: Frankenstein is running around the woods, finds a pond and sees his reflection in the water and is horrified. He immediately hates himself! What if he had had compassion for himself?
What if we had compassion for ourselves? People say to me all the time that they stopped going to church once they became adults because, “Church just beats up on you.”
And I say, “That’s only on Sunday. The rest of the week it’s TV commercials, magazine ads, the internet.” We don’t need the church to beat up on us because we do a pretty good job of that ourselves. “If only I were smarter, thinner, taller, richer, younger, older.” “If only I were a better________.” So maybe we need to go the manger and take Frankenstein home with us to remind us to be a friend to ourselves; to have compassion not only for one another but also for ourselves.
I really laughed when Simon pointed at the chocolate bar and said, “More,” because at that time, I was just getting to know my new mother-in-law and whenever she ate something she really liked, she’d say, “Mmm, tastes like more!” So when Simon said, “More” I immediately thought of her.
More—of whatever is good in your life! What give you joy? Do have moments of peace? Are you enjoying unconditional love? Let’s have more of that! It not like trout fishing where there’s a limit. Laughter, joy, gratitude, community,–no limits on any of that! What is feeding our souls? What do we want more of in our lives?
Maybe we need more of less. Less stuff, less activity, less noise. More space, more silence, more pauses, more air, more light, more music. And for sure, we need more chocolate.
Gold, Frankenstein and More. Love, Compassion, Joy. The gifts left by the Wise Ones. The gifts of God for all the people. Any time in our lives when we are feeling weary, hungry, overwhelmed, take a walk to the manger—we don’t have to traverse afar. It’s very close. Pick your gift. Or take all three.
(Said in a somber, stentorian tone.)
And so it was that I saw Simon the Star and was overjoyed. And lo, I returned to my supervisor’s office to report but was warned by a sign–on his door which read, “Do Not Disturb.” And so, having been warned by the sign, I left by another route and so fulfilled what the Prophets had written.
Photo by Greyson Joralemon
Your sermon was brilliant – one of those that will live on in each of us.
thank you for the text Debra–I loved this, have been thinking about it and your spoken ending: Gifts of God in the manger–Love, Compassion, Joy. Feeling so grateful for your sermon and all the ways you bring light to the world.
Thank you so much for this gift!! Sorry to have missed hearing your lovely voice say the words, but the text teams with life and deep wisdom! You do bring joy in such a loving, human manner that touches and inspires.
Thanks Deb for this sermon. I have been thinking about it all week. The service was lovely this week with you and Meighan. Blessings to you.
Dearest Debra. You gave us the spiritual gifts we all are longing for, through the eyes of Simon – clearly a teacher of what is most important in life. And you, novice Chaplain, already had wisdom to see these tremendous gifts for what they are.
We love you unconditionally. We look forward to seeing you when we return to the U.S. Blessings.
Debra – you minister to us in such wonderful ways! This story will stay with me every time I think not only about the gifts of the three kings but also about those everyday gifts of love, compassion and joy! Blessings!
Thank you Debra! What an apt story, full of metaphors that bring concrete examples to abstract concepts — the same concepts I’m needing in this dessert time of my life. Great reminders to notice the spiritual gifts God has given us.
Thanks for all the kind comments. It was super fun for me to tell that story.