“When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.’ After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.” -Matthew 2:1-12
Yesterday was the Epiphany of the Lord. We imagine a star over the manger, the three wise men bringing gifts to pay Him homage, and perhaps Herod feeling threatened by a baby.
What does the Epiphany really mean? Jesus is revealed to the world that He is the one to redeem us. He’s not just any baby, but the son of God come as one of us. These three kings from distant lands believed in Him and wanted to praise Him.
Christmas is especially a time for giving, we receive and give lots of gifts. And many times we appreciate the gifts and thought that went into them, but don’t feel a revelation of joy and passion for that gift. But there may be one gift that especially touches at our “heart strings” and moves us. The giver really had to know us and choose the right gift to make such a great impact on us.
God is all about gifts, but the most important is relationships. He gave us Jesus, so that He can come to Earth, interact with His people, and draw people to Him. He gave us free will so that we can make our own choices and form our own relationships. He wants us to come to Him and have a deep relationship with Him. Jesus died out of love for us. There are so many examples that show God’s focus is on His people, on love and relationships!
The magi’s gifts had special meaning. They weren’t just things of money and treasures. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Wikipedia says this about the meanings:
- “All three gifts are ordinary offerings and gifts given to a king. Myrrh being commonly used as an anointing oil, frankincense as a perfume, and gold as a valuable.
- The three gifts had a spiritual meaning : gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense (an incense) as a symbol of deity, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of death.
- This dates back to Origen in Contra Celsum: “gold, as to a king; myrrh, as to one who was mortal; and incense, as to a God.”
- These interpretations are alluded to in the verses of the popular carol “We Three Kings” in which the magi describe their gifts. The last verse includes a summary of the interpretation: “Glorious now behold Him arise/King and God and sacrifice.”
- Sometimes this is described more generally as gold symbolizing virtue, frankincense symbolizing prayer, and myrrh symbolizing suffering.”
The gold was a gift made for a king, the frankincense, a gift for a God. The wise men knew that this Godly child, though immortal and all powerful, would die and redeem us, based on their gift of myrrh. How mysterious and miraculous!
The bread and wine are also meaningful gifts, symbolizing our interactions with each other, God, and the earth. The bread is something that takes hard labor to make, to harvest the wheat, grind the grain, knead and rise and bake the bread. It’s working hard. The wine is about sacrifice, Jesus shedding His blood for us, but it’s also about joy and celebration, the fruits of our labors. Plants are grown and harvested into sweet and wonderful fruits, then made into a delicious drink to enjoy. We have wine at the end of a long day to relax, we have it at weddings and special events. It symbolizes bonding and celebration.
Ultimately, when we give wine and bread to God as our homage, we are giving over everything – the earth, soil, our hard labors, our desires and joys. Then God gives it all back to us, as we drink His wine, His blood and eat His saving bread of life.
It’s this interconnection of love and sacrifice, it’s all about relationships. He gives us Jesus and we must give ourselves to God – that is His greatest wish, the gift that gives him “heart strings”.