Sunday, January 3, 2010

What Gift Can I Bring?

(Read Matthew 2:1-12)

We are at the start of a new year, a new decade for that matter, and I hope that everyone here has made some New Year’s resolutions, some goals that you want to accomplish, some dreams that you want to come true.

Benjamin Mays, who was a minister, scholar, social activist and the president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, said, “The tragedy in life does not lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream” (Zadra, Dan and Kobi Yamada. 1, How Many People Does It Take to Make a Difference? Seattle: Compendium, 2009.)

I think he’s right. However, that being said, I do hope you succeed in reaching your goals and fulfilling your dreams this year.

What are some of the reasons why people fail to accomplish their New Year’s resolutions, their goals, their dreams in life? Fear of failure; some might even say fear of success. Laziness. Lack of perseverance or lack of diligence. Not having confidence or faith in one’s self. Another possible option is that we make unrealistic resolutions or we bite off more than we can chew.

I would like to say a word about fear of failure and about procrastination.

First, fear of failure. Do you know that Michael Jordan, arguably the best basketball player of all time, was cut from his high school basketball team? Imagine the great loss if he never would have tried again or would have just played baseball. But getting cut in high school didn’t stop him; he didn’t quit.

Do you know that Thomas Edison failed a reported twenty-five thousand times in his efforts to invent the battery?

When a reporter asked Edison how he felt about failing 25, 000 times, Edison said, “Failed. I haven’t failed. Today I know twenty-five thousand ways not to make a battery!” (Dyer, Wayne. Wisdom of the Ages. New York: Quill, 2002. pg. 156.)

I am someone who has not pursued certain goals and dreams because I am afraid of failure (in college I was afraid of getting a B!), so I really appreciate how Edison re-frames the way we commonly think of failure and success. Best-selling author, Wayne Dyer, writes in his book, Wisdom of the Ages, “There is no such thing as failure! You cannot fail, you can only produce results!” (Ibid, pg. 154.) That’s what Edison is saying. He produced 25, 001 results; one of which lead to the invention of the battery. If we could all start thinking like Edison and Dyer, then fear of failure would cease to be a reason we don’t achieve our goals. We would just keep trying until we achieved a result with which we were satisfied.

Dyer, who has written over 30 books by the way, also writes, “It is better to jump in and experience life than to stand on the sidelines fearing that something might go wrong” (Ibid, pg. 155.)

If we want to succeed, we cannot let fear of failure get in our way.

We also can’t let procrastination or laziness or lack of diligence get in our way. Excuses are just that, excuses.

Here these words from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s (1749-1832) classic book, Faust (considered one of the greatest works in German literature, early 1800s):

“Lose This Day Loitering”

Lose this day loitering—‘twill be the same story
To-morrow—and the next more dilatory [delay it even more];
Each indecision bring its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting o’er lost days.
Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute—
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Only engage and then the mind grows heated—
Begin it, and then the work will be completed!
(From Dyer. Pg. 95.)

Dyer writes in Wisdom of the Ages, “The reluctance to engage is what keeps you stuck… The tendency to put it off, to procrastinate, causes you to lose this day. [It is] the valuable technique of beginning” (Ibid, pg. 97.) that enables us to accomplish our goals and achieve our dreams. “Do not think about finishing a project, or about how overwhelming the task may seem. Do nothing more than begin…” (Ibid, pg. 96.). Anything we are to finish, we must begin.

I’m sure you have heard the saying, “The journey of 1000 miles starts with one step.” The message here is: talk about what you want to do, and then do it! Start!

Today, we celebrate Epiphany, one of the more important days in the Christian liturgical year, but a day that many don’t know the significance of. In the general sense of the word, an epiphany is a “sudden manifestation of the meaning or essence of something.”

Like when I arrived at Princeton. I understood the meaning of the last year of my life. I knew I was meant to go there.

In the Christian liturgical year, epiphany is a feast celebrating the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi. The gift of epiphany is that now everyone in the world can know, can recognize Jesus as one sent by God, as a king.

When the Magi, as the wise men are often called, journeyed to find Jesus, they brought with them gifts to pay honor to the newborn king. That got me thinking. We are also on a journey in this life to find Jesus, to know him, to honor him. Isn’t it fitting that we also bring gifts to Jesus like they did?

The gifts the Magi brought were gifts fit for a king. The Scripture says, "On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered [the baby Jesus] gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh" (Matthew 2:11). The gifts they gave Jesus were very valuable monetary and material gifts. We are accustomed to giving monetary gifts to Jesus as well, and while these gifts are greatly appreciated and necessary for Christ's Church to continue, they are not the only kind of gifts we can bring.

In the song, "The Little Drummer Boy" the young boy comes to Jesus and says, “Baby Jesus, I am a poor boy too, I have no gift to bring, thats fit to bring our king, shall I play for you, on my drum?” Mary nods yes to the little drummer boy, and so he gives the gift of his music to the baby Jesus. The last words of the song are: “Then, he smiled at me, me and my drum.”

Jesus smiled at the little boy who offered something of himself as a gift.

And so I thought, why not combine this idea of what gift can we bring to Jesus with our New Year’s resolutions? What can we commit to doing this year that is an offering to Christ?

Give something to Jesus that requires you to use something God gave to you. For example:

According to the newspaper, the number one New Year’s resolution is to get in shape. God gave us our bodies. Commit to taking care of yours in the new year.

God gave us our talents. Use your talent this year. I am writing a book. Even though I am afraid of failing, even though I want to procrastinate, the only real failure will be if I don’t try, don’t start. All of the people that I admire and that have impacted my life: Jesus, Buddha, Vincent Van Gogh, Elvis Presley singing gospel, St. Augustine, St. Francis, St. Bernard of Clairvioux, Julian of Norwich, Richard Foster, Marcus Borg, Brother Lawrence, John Wesley, Marianne Williamson, Eckart Tolle, Thich Nhat Hanh, Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder, none of these people that have inspired me died or will die with their music inside of them. They sang in their lifetime. They made music. I don’t want to die with my music inside of me!

If you are artistic, paint or frame a photo you took. If you are a good writer, write your memoir. If you are interested in preserving family history, draw up your family tree.

If you have been given a curious nature, go back to school, take a class of some kind, take up a musical instrument., learn how to cook new foods.

If you have been blessed with a home, take care of it. Make it nice. Open your doors and invite people in.

You have been given many gifts so there is no end to what you have to give. Just don’t be afraid and don’t wait. What gift will you give God in 2010?

Erma Bombeck wrote books and over 4,000 hilarious newspaper columns, which described the everyday life of a suburban housewife and her kids. She said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’” (Zadra, Dan and Kobi Yamada. 1, How Many People Does It Take to Make a Difference? Seattle: Compendium, 2009.)

May we all be able to say to God, “I used everything you gave me.”

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