Thank God for baby showers.
During our first pregnancy, Alan and I made the illogical plan to move away from our home and two stable jobs a month before our due date. As the trimesters passed we anticipated both a baby and becoming a one-income household with a negative cash flow. It was increasingly obvious we’d never be able to afford all the carseats and cribs and diapers on our own.
So imagine our prayer of thanks (and sigh of relief) at the first offer to throw us a baby shower. I’d be showered with gifts for our daughter, and all I had to do was show up! Well, that – and make the guest list.
This was not an open-invite situation, so I had some work to do in deciding who would be there. About 90% of this task was so obvious, the guest list practically built itself: grandmas, aunts, sisters-in-laws, cousins, and best friends (both mine and my mom’s). The final 10%, though, was surprisingly complicated. Since every guest is expected to bring a present, a friendly invite can be misinterpreted as an “unvitation.” If I include Jill, do her sisters want to come? What about that childhood friend that I haven’t seen in person since my sophomore year in college – will she think it’s weird if I add her to the list?
But that’s just 10%. Before long we got the guest list finalized, excited about all 100% who would help welcome our daughter to the world with clothes, toys, and pacifiers.
When the big day arrived I was overwhelmed with gratitude and relief. If it weren’t socially awkward I think I would have swam around in diapers like Scrooge McDuck and his money. But, no – there’s an etiquette to this kind of thing. The guest of honor opens one present at a time, displays it for all to see (variation: pass it around the room), and waits for the appropriate reaction (“oooh,” “aawww”) before moving on to the next gift.
This long gift-opening section of the party can drag out for a while. That may be why there’s no baby shower equivalent to the “wedding crasher.” No one ever parties like this; I mean, what if someone had just showed up at my baby shower, gift in hand? Some random person – not in the 90% or the 10% or the people I wanted to invite but couldn’t – some complete stranger who just wanted to bring a gift for my unborn baby?
That would be super weird, right?
If you remember what we’re celebrating today (or, more officially, January 6th), then perhaps you’re thinking what Robb McCoy thought. He’s a UM pastor and half of the great Pulpit Fiction duo, and he has pointed out that the visit from the wise men sounds a lot like the first baby shower ever. Think about it: you’ve got a group of people showing up with presents for a baby and his mom. That’s all the basic ingredients for a baby shower… except both the people and the gifts are a bit untraditional.
If there was an expected guest list for Mary’s baby shower, it’s safe to say that the “wise men” weren’t on it. For starters, they’re dudes. But beyond that, they’re magi – astrologers. Fred Craddock and Eugene Boring describe them as “a priestly class of Persian or Babylonian experts in the occult arts such as astrology and the interpretation of dreams.” *
That’s weird, right? The “wise men” aren’t Jewish. They aren’t regulars at the temple like the Pharisees or Sadducees. They had to travel “from the east.” They’re foreign astrologers.
Then there’s their gifts. For a baby who doesn’t even have a crib, they show up with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. What’s a new mother to do with that?
This was Jesus’ baby shower: unexpected guests bringing unexpected gifts.
Matthew is the only one of the four gospels who tells us about the magi. He’s also the only one to include a story Jesus told about a similar event, but this time it’s the kind of party people crash more often. It shows up in Matthew 22, and goes something like this:
The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding feast where the top 90% of the invite list RSVP’d, “No thanks, I got better stuff to do.” And then even the last 10% said they were busy, too; some of them were apparently so put-off by the invitation that they killed the messengers who carried them. But the host-king was undeterred to have this wedding feast for his son. He sent messengers out into the streets to invite anyone – complete strangers! That’s what the kingdom of heaven is like.
This parable continues with a strange twist: the king sees one guy without his wedding robe on and gets so angry he ties him up and throws him out into the dark. Kind of harsh for a party with an open invite, right? But maybe the lack of a wedding robe showed that his heart wasn’t really in the marriage celebration at all, because he didn’t even bother to dress appropriately. In that case, in the kingdom of heaven it doesn’t matter who the guests are as long as they’re focused on the right thing once they accept the invitation.
We can see this with the magi, too. Remember their weird baby gifts? Some say there’s significance in them: gold for a king, frankincense for a priest, myrrh for embalming the dead. They may not have been on the “invite” list – they weren’t Jews – but their hearts were in it. They understood Jesus and were there focused on the right thing.
So: thank God for baby showers. Better yet: thank God that the kingdom of heaven is like Jesus’ baby shower, where outsiders show up and are welcomed.
If you’re reading this today feeling like an outsider – like you didn’t grow up in the right neighborhood, haven’t done all the right things, don’t have your career path all put together – if you feel like some kind of outsider, then know this: the kingdom of heaven is like a party where YOU are invited. All that’s required is that you come with your heart in the right place, open to Jesus Christ. If you’re ready to focus on him and walk in his ways, you’re in.
But you might be reading this today feeling like an insider. I get that – I’m an insider, too. We insiders need to hear this same good news, but for us it’s not so much an invitation as it is a lesson in party etiquette. If the kingdom of God is like a party where outsiders are invited, then we better welcome those outsiders when they arrive. No snubbing, no “I was here first!” No, we keep our hearts in the right place or else…
…well, we know what happened to that one guy without his robe.
* From The People’s New Testament Commentary.