Some 30ish days ago, in the children’s Disco Nativity, we sang of kings who catch wind of Jesus, who come bearing gifts, giving themselves away as gifts, too. Now, 30 days from Ash Wednesday, we hear of Nathanael who catches wind of Jesus and says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
The kings come as gift. Nathanael comes as expectation. The kings see One worthy of gift. Nathanael sees One worthy of derision. Nathanael and the kings see the same person yet see the same person in a different light.
Isn’t how we see ourselves how we see others?
Maybe the kings see themselves as gifts and so they find in Jesus a gift. Maybe it comes down to “see the gift, be the gift” for them.
By contrast, maybe Nathanael knows something about not being the gift, not measuring up, has heard someone say of him, “can anything good come out of Nathanael,” perhaps he seems himself as not measuring up, so out of his own want of measuring up he sees Nazareth’s Jesus as not measuring up.
Do we see ourselves as those seeking to measure up in a world that we believe never measures up?
Or, do we see ourselves as gifts given by God each with unique gifts to bear?
Isn’t an Epiphany truth that we are God’s gift-bearing gifts? This is the truth of us, but many never hear this truth. In fact, many hear something quite the opposite. Maybe that’s why we believe we never measure up, see others as never measuring up. Our, “you-must-measure-up,” mentality whispers that we are no gift-bearing gift so we go around believing, “Me, a gift? That might be true for so-and-so, but it isn’t true for me.”
Such believing pushes Epiphany’s beauty, awe, and possibility from us, forces us into working to measure up, enslaves us in this labor where we become Nathanael; giving the world our opinions, assumptions, derisions. Out of our own sense of not measuring up, we miss Epiphany’s beauty, awe, and possibility, exchange it for a quest to find light, all the while missing the light around us, even cursing it as dark. We work, hope, strive for one flashy ideal moment when light, as we define, envision, and expect it, flashes, makes it all clear, shows meaning in all that seems meaningless, brings us enough illumination to see that we do measure up.” We crave and strive for this illumination so much that we miss the light already around us, miss real Epiphany by laboring for a counterfeit.
Epiphany isn’t about illumination for us to see our own measuring up; isn’t about wondering if something good comes out of Nazareth or out of us.
But what if it is about being as the Magi, the kings? Wouldn’t that mean that it’d be about us being gift-bearing gift-givers whose seeing of self as gift means giving all that we are and all that possess to the One in the manger, the One baptized by John? And wouldn’t such a sense of self and possessions both as gift, bear the light of God’s presence into God’s world? For isn’t the light of God’s presence most clearly seen through us as we are fully given to Jesus—100% sold-out, the whole route? Isn’t this how God’s light and life is given to God’s world?
Isn’t this how we are God’s opportunities to the world for illumination, for Epiphany? And isn’t there enough of God’s life and light for Nathanaels the world over to become epiphanies, too.
Epiphany’s light flashes beyond bounds of certain times, spaces, people or places. For Epiphany’s light is for every time, space, person and place. We are all gift-bearing gift-givers. Our challenge is to get one another to see that we don’t need to spend time looking for enough light to see if we measure up, for the light that makes us measure up has already come, is here, is Jesus! Jesus has already measured us up into being gift-bearing gift-givers, our challenge is to get the Nathanael alive in each of us to stop asking if anything good come can out of Nazareth long enough to see that Good has already come out of Nazareth, that the light of the Good One is all around us.
Do you suppose if we Nathanaels stop cursing the dark, our eyes might open to behold a kingly light ablaze around us? That we might see self and others as God’s gift-bearing gift-givers, each a unique gift, each with unique gifts to bear?
Isn’t this the defining point between Nathanaels and kings?
Nathanaels do not see self or others as unique gifts, see no unique gifts to bear, so seeing no good anywhere in anyone ever, so they chirp, “Nothing good can come out of Nazareth, Hickory, Mountainview, or Zion.” We Nathanaels, cursing light as dark, go around passing judgments, demanding answers, expecting others to measure up, balls of anxiety, missing light already all around us as frantic searching keeps us too blind to see. A king, magi, wise one, is a gift-bearing gift-giver opening themselves as gift—giving all away, nothing held back, 100% sold out, the whole route, all that they have, and all that they are.
This open-ended giving to Jesus reflects the light of Jesus. When our money is wholly given to God, and we share it liberally, we shine as generosity of Jesus. When we are with lonely, sick, dying, or distressed, we shine as Jesus, God with us. When we forgive, especially when feeling that we deserve our pound of flesh, we shine as grace of Jesus. And when we do these with no hope of gain, or search for praise, or out of some need to measure up, we shine as love of Jesus. In these and so many other ways, we gift-bearing gift-givers shine as love of Almighty God for God’s world through Jesus the Christ.
This shining love changes hearts and minds of Nathanaels again and again, always invites them to come and see.
God’s shining love changed hearts and minds when Epiphany’s light illuminated the world through Bethlehem’s manger babe. Kings became gift-bearing gift-givers in response, reflecting the reality that God is the ultimate gift-bearing gift-giver.
As Kings bear gifts to God, so God bears God’s world gifts through you and me. God’s light, life, love, and presence come through you and me. This isn’t something we do to measure up—it’s who we are. Each is a unique gift–bearing gift, everyone a gift-bearing gift-giver, God’s gift of Epiphany. How? Because more than just something good comes out of Nazareth; the One who is truly Good comes out of Nazareth. Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending for the Good One out of Nazareth is the Good One who comes out of Hickory, Mountainview, and Zion, too, through 100% sold-out, the whole route, see the gift, be the gift, gift-bearing, gift-giving folks like me and you.