When my friend from Abu Dhabi first visited, she brought me frankincense from Yemen in a box carved in Arabia. You can see it in the picture. The slightest touch leaves the resin’s pungent fragrance on your finger. On Epiphany we celebrate “little Christmas,” the day Magi (wise men) from the East paid homage to the new king. They brought him the gift of frankincense, too, along with gold and myrrh. These are viewed as symbolic of the divinity, royalty, and mortality of the newborn baby respectively. (You’ve probably seen the cartoon pointing out that three women would have brought much more practical gifts, such as diapers.) Because there were three gifts, we infer that there were three Magi. Actually there might have been more. Tradition even names the trio: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. To celebrate Christmas, we give each other gifts. It occurred to me that it would only be right and courteous to give the birthday boy a gift too. It’s not too late. Scripture scholars think that the Magi arrived much later after the birth of Jesus. Notice Matthew’s Gospel said they went into the “house” not the stable or cave.
Here are three gifts you might consider presenting to Jesus.
1. Lacking expensive gifts, the drummer boy in the Christmas carol gave Jesus his talent. He played the drum for him. Each day we can do something special and offer it to Jesus. Like what? Maybe you don’t feel like doing a certain task, but you take control of yourself and do it anyway. Maybe you have a sudden craving for the fudge leftover from Christmas, but you hold your craving in check and save the fudge for tomorrow. You might call or visit a person who would love to hear from you. Or maybe you exercise a talent you have and have ignored for awhile, such as painting a watercolor picture or crocheting an afghan. Then each night, along with considering the blessings of the day, you might reflect on the specific thing you did that day to honor Jesus.
2. Arguably the best present the Magi gave Jesus was their presence. We can imagine the difficulties they endured traveling from their country in the east to Bethlehem. They left their families and friends, did not know where they were going, and spent days riding camels across the desert and rocky terrain. We can make it a point to be present to Jesus each day. So what if we have a mountain of work facing us? So what if we are tired or depressed? Taking time to pray can be a valuable gift we offer. We might go to the trouble of celebrating an extra weekday Mass and offering praise and thanks for salvation
3. The star led the Magi to Jesus. Mary recently has been given the title “Star of Evangelization.” A gift Jesus would really appreciate is our bringing someone to him. We could invite someone to church with us, talk about our faith, read the Bible to someone, or volunteer to teach religion at our parish. In this year of mercy, you might forgive someone. Your love might be the catalyst that brings them closer to Jesus.
1. Some Eastern Church traditions hold that there were twelve Magi.
2. The Magi were probably followers of Zoroaster and as such delved into astrology, which was considered a science.
3. The Magi were “transformed” into kings based on Psalm 72:11 — “May all kings fall down before him.”
4. It is thought that our customs of kneeling and prostrating originated with the Magi bowing and doing the child homage.
5. Balthazar is often depicted as young and dark-skinned.
6. Our word “magic” is derived from “Magi.”
7. The Magi are considered saints and perhaps martyrs.
8. The carol “We Three Kings” was written by the Episcopalian deacon John Henry Hopkins, Jr., about 1857 as part of a pageant he wrote for his nieces and nephews.
9. Several theories have been proposed to explain the brilliant star. These range from “it was miraculous” to “it is a feature of Matthew’s pious fiction.”
10. The Magi were warned in a dream to go home by another route to evade Herod, just like St. Joseph was warned in a dream.
11. Chinese Christians believe that one Magi came from China.
12. The three traditional names have been traced back to a Greek manuscript from about the year 500.
What gift will you give the newborn king?