Isaiah 60 1-6, Ephesians 3 2-3a 5-6 Matthew 2 1-22
The story about the Magi from the East is full of symbolism. The star, the quest, the gifts of the wise men and of course the wise men themselves have nourished the religious imagination and have been explained and portrayed in countless ways in Christian iconography and the folklore of the three-king singers.
The wise men speak to the imagination as kings. Perhaps this happened under the inspiration of Isaiah's prophecy that speaks of kings coming towards the dawn of Jerusalem. The latter then evokes the star symbol again. But the wise men may have been difficult kings, because you cannot imagine that kings are on their knees before the king of a strange people. Kings don't kneel, by the way. It was actually the wise men that fell to their knees.
They have also given the "kings" a different skin colour: white, yellow and black. With this they symbolize Europe, Asia and Africa. For this one could rely on the letter to the Ephesians in which we read that all Gentiles are also joint heirs and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
This touches one of the strongest points of the story. They were strangers, Gentiles, who made it known to the Jewish notables that the promised Messiah, their saviour, was born. This symbol still makes Christians think today.
But this time let's talk mainly about the symbolism of the gifts of the wise. Our gifts under the Christmas tree have been unpacked, the Christmas tree can be cleaned up, the New Year's gifts have been exchanged. But it is never too late to give people a sign in which we express what they are worth to us.
The wise men must have brought out the most precious from their treasures to offer it to the child Jesus and his parents. Church fathers say: they have honoured the child as king, as God and as man. There were sober medieval people who said: the wise men gave gold because Joseph and Mary were poor people, incense to dispel the bad smell in the stable, myrrh for the health of the child.
Myrrh is indeed a fragrant gum resin that was used, among other things, as a remedy for many infectious diseases. Offering myrrh to someone means as much as saying: may your life be preserved for pain, illness and suffering. When you give someone incense as a gift, you say that your life may be like a sweet scent, a joy for all who have to deal with you. With gold you say: that you can discover your own value, your preciousness and your wealth.
Wouldn't that be the most expensive thing that we can give each other with New Year? Then we are like myrrh to each other and we make every effort to alleviate each other's pain, to carry each other's suffering, to cope with each other's illness. We are like incense to each other, we share joy with each other, we seek God's face in each other and learn to live in the light thereof. We are like gold to each other, we see each other as God sees a person, we see that there is something in our life that makes us a king.
And if the children we let go as the Three Kings dressed up instead of singing for some sweets or a bag of money, would offer their gifts from door to door: a few pieces of gilt paper, a few grains of incense and some fragrant myrrh ? They could add a wish to it. That everyone who opens the door for them would pass on the gifts, as a symbol of what he or she wants to mean to roommates and all fellow people. That would only do justice to the wise men from the East.
Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province,
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne