EPIPHANY (JANUARY 6, 2019)
Matthew’s sketch of the birth of Jesus provides us with a picture of Jesus’ future. In broad strokes, he tells us of the visit of the Magi, Persians, fascinated by astrology, who – without GPS-equipped camels - saw and followed a curious star in the heavens. They were not Jews awaiting a messiah, but wise pagan-gentiles in search of a Jewish king. They stopped for direction from king Herod, the paranoid puppet of Rome. Herod tried to get them to inform him later of this infant king’s whereabouts, so he could kill him as he had, his brothers and at least two sons as possible threats to his kingship. Matthew foretells that Jesus had serious opposition from the beginning; and it will get worse at the hands of Herod’s living son who will later condemn him to die.
We have all heard the jokes that say that the wise men were not as wise as women would have been. The men brought the wrong gifts for a newborn. Please note that the men did stop and ask for directions.
Let’s look at their gifts.
One brought gold. So, it wasn’t pampers. But, what do you suppose paid for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ trip to and settlement in Egypt when they could not return to Nazareth and Jesus’ likely death at the hands of Herod? Today, we continue to “Live + Jesus” by sharing our “gold” with the Jesus in others, except that we call it sharing our “treasure.”
They brought frankincense. Frankincense got its name from the Franks, the crusaders who brought back from Yemen and Oman this gum cut from trees. The sap, attached to some bark, was allowed to dry and had multiple uses through time. It was seen as a cure for different poisons and several illnesses. It is still burned as incense in worship services. It is also burned in aromatherapy for its stress-reducing property. Today, we use our “frankincense,” our gift of healing words of encouragement and support with those who need us.
They brought myrrh, the strangest of the three gifts. Myrrh, like frankincense, is made from dried sap of different trees. So, it wasn’t baby formula. It was used – and is still used - in over a third of all Saudis as medicine. Today, we are called to become a healing ointment in our relationships.