Matthew 2.1-12 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: `And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’"
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 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 him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Reflection “Why do we give one another gifts?” Habit? Duty? Obligation? Guilt? Manipulation? I believe gifts given in the genuine sense of giving are the outward and visible sign of our interior state, our intrinsic good will. Some gifts reveal our sense of gratitude, some extend healing, others communicate our inner desire for reconciliation, still others express our interior state of reverence or love. Given this way, gifts are means by which we make visible our hidden or invisible thoughts and emotions. When we choose the so called perfect gift for someone we are communicating by our choice that we know and value them as the unique person they are.
Which leads us to the wise men in today’s teaching story. Finding the child Jesus they are “overwhelmed with joy,” they open their treasure chests (their hearts?) and carefully choose the perfect gifts for the infant Jesus, gifts that reveal they know and value the unique person Jesus. The wisdom of the wise is to look beyond appearances of destitute Jewish parents with a newborn lying in an animal feeding trough, and see a human being, a divine being, a fragile being destined to die.
As with all good teaching stories, the wisdom is hidden between the lines. The wisdom of the wise men is hidden in the gifts they bring. Gold represents humanity. Frankincense represents divinity and myrrh is used when preparing bodies for burial. The wise men’s gifts are the outward and visible signs of their interior understanding of the true nature of this child, Jesus. Human, divine and destined to die.
The wise mens’ well chosen gifts communicate, “We see you for who you truly are.” Like the brightness of a star that illumines the entire world, the foreigners’ perspicuity elevates the exchange of gifts from expressions of mass marketing or mad materialism to a spiritual transaction.
Celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany we receive the incomprehensible gift given to all of humanity; the revelation that like our brother Jesus we are human beings, divine beings and fragile beings destined to die. There are no foreigners, there are no strangers. There are no “others.” Receiving this news we join the wise men, overwhelmed with joy and reaching into our hearts we search for the perfect gift to communicate we know and value each person we meet for who they uniquely are; human, divine and utterly fragile.
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