During the Epiphany season we read the rather mysterious account of wise men in the East who follow a star to the Christ child in Bethlehem. The wise men give the child gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The word “epiphany” means “revealing,” and in their choice of gifts the strange men from the East reveal to us just who this child is to them.
Gold is not a gift that one gives to a baby. But it is a gift that one presents to a king. Frankincense—that sweet-smelling incense that is burned even to this day before altars in churches just like this one—is a gift given to a priest. And Myrrh is anointing oil, a solemn gift given to a prophet, signifying that he is anointed to speak God’s word. It is also the oil for anointing the dead, signifying that the prophet is almost assuredly the target of those who would deny God’s word. King, priest, prophet. When the three men look at the child Jesus, this is what they see.
Upon leaving Bethlehem, the wise men give Jesus their greatest gift. Knowing that Jesus’ mission in the world depends upon them, they risk everything by defying King Herod. Rather than turning Jesus in to Herod (who seeks to kill Jesus), they leave town a different way. They change direction.
How far do we travel in our lives to kneel at the feet of Jesus? Do we set anything else aside, as the wise men set aside their entire lives, to make such time and room? What do we bring him? Are our gifts perfunctory and frivolous, meaningless bobbles offered with little care or forethought? Or, do we set before Jesus the best of us: our passions, our love, our resources…all to acknowledge that he is king; that he mediates grace to us; that he speaks the very voice of God? Most importantly, when we look into the eyes of Christ, are our hearts moved to change direction? Do we stand up to those with subtle or real power over us and begin to walk in ways that support Jesus’ mission of reconciling love in the world?
The strange men from the East offer us a profound blessing by reminding us who Jesus is. He is the king, around whom we should center our lives. He is the priest, through whose body and blood we are drawn close to God. He is the prophet, whose way of love can change our hearts and souls. This is who Jesus is revealed to be. And because he is all this to us, in the end we are the ones who have received the greatest gift.