What gift will we bring?
This week has seen Christians celebrate Epiphany – the time when we traditionally remember the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus. Whilst they often appear alongside the shepherds and angels on our Christmas cards, the Bible doesn’t mention them all being there at the same time and there is some debate over how old Jesus was when they actually got to meet Him.
Whenever it was, I wonder how Mary felt when the wise men finally tracked them down and presented their gifts? What was she expecting? Perhaps some handcrafted wooden train set? After all, these visitors were from the opposite end of the social spectrum from the humble shepherds who’d been earlier - they could afford something rather refined.
So, they open the first gift, to find that it’s gold. Expensive, yes, but not very practical. How unsuitable a present! Or was it? Gold for a King. For that’s what Jesus was. Perhaps not the type of King everyone had been expecting, but then God likes to be the god of surprises. Even though He’d said four hundred years earlier that He’d send a new King, this still took everyone by surprise. Perhaps none more so than Mary herself. And the surroundings were hardly palatial. But maybe the stark contrast served to highlight the appropriateness of the gift.
But what of the frankincense? Incense for a baby or toddler? What would they have made of that? Small children and matches are generally a health and safety nightmare. But the wise men seemed to be looking forward, to Jesus’ adult life, when he would take on the role of priest and become the way for ordinary people to meet with God. The frankincense would remind Mary and Joseph that in the past, only the priest - the holy man - could come into God’s presence, as he burnt the incense in the temple. But Jesus would change all that - another surprise. Not only was he a King, he was holy God too.
And so to the final gift - surely one of them would have brought something useful? Then again… no, another surprise. Myrrh, used in ointment they put on dead bodies to stop them smelling so bad, and as a remedy for infections. Not on anyone’s ‘Top Gifts for Kids’ list. But again, it symbolised what was to come. Mary knew Jesus would save his people - the angel had told them that much - she just didn’t know how yet. She didn’t know of the heartache ahead and the cruel death that he would willingly face to allow God and man to be friends again. Myrrh, to heal our wounds. So, a King, God, and Man.
I wonder if the wise men truly appreciated the significance of what they brought; if they understood their part in God’s rescue mission for mankind. And what about us? What gift will we bring as we come to worship Him? Do we recognise this baby in the manger as our King? Do we honour our God, and acknowledge him as holy? And do we allow him to heal our wounds as we remember the ultimate sacrifice he made, for us? As 2022 begins, will we offer the gift of ourselves and allow God to surprise us with what He will do next?