Wednesday, January 6, 2016

3 Reflections on Epiphany - Reflection #3 – Gifts Suggestions

The three gifts the magi bring to Bethlehem are often considered as symbolic indicators of Christ’s nature. Origen, the 3rd century theologian, gave us a concise example of this way of understanding the gifts when he wrote “gold, as to a king; myrrh, as to one who was mortal; and incense, as to a God.” This was the interpretation I grew up with, and one that still resonates with me today. However I would like to suggest another way of interpreting the significance of these three gifts.

I would like to propose that the three gifts given by the magi to the Christ child can also represent a proper response for all of us who seek to honor and worship the Saviour. The gifts of the magi can help us understand what gifts we can offer to Jesus, in the here and now.

Gold – it seems to me the giving of gold by the magi suggests that we give to Christ from our resources, through our offerings of time, talents and treasures to the work of the church and beyond. Giving of our gold (money) is really a way of sharing our time and talents. Money is both a measure of the time we have worked at something and an indication of the value of our skills and abilities. When we give from our resources to others, especially to those less fortunate than ourselves, we are giving them to Christ. As the Gospel of Matthew quotes Jesus “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40 NIV)

Frankincense – as incense was used in Biblical times in religious ceremonies I would suggest that the giving of frankincense by the magi would indicate that it is appropriate that we give to Christ our worship, our prayers. We offer our petitions to the Lord because not only is Jesus worthy of receiving our prayers, but also because as the Son of God Jesus is able to receive our prayers and respond. The gift of frankincense indicates that the one born in Bethlehem is also the one we can turn to in prayer, in worship. With the psalmist we say “May my prayer be like incense in your presence.” (Psalm 141:2 NJB)

Myrrh – I would suggest that this final gift tells us that it is appropriate to give to Christ the gift of our serving, specifically serving as agents of healing and reconciliation in the world. Myrrh had a number of uses including as a medicinal agent in healing balm. We are called to make the world a sweet smelling place, not through dousing everything with perfume, but by spreading the healing and pleasant aroma of love – not a romantic love, but the self-giving love of God, shown to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Loving service inspired by Christ, the caring serving of others to honour Christ, this brings light into a dark world, brings healing into a broken world, and as the gift of myrrh suggests, brings a sweet aroma into a world made putrid with hatred, vengeance and exclusion. “Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. He was a sacrificial offering that smelled sweet to God.” (Ephesians 5:2 CEB)

Perhaps these Epiphany thoughts of mine can best be summed up with the words of the closing verse of the carol written by the English poet Christina Rossetti - "In the Bleak Midwinter
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him – give my heart.

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