This weekend, we celebrate the Epiphany, when the magi from the East came to honor the Christ child. They were a first promise of the gathering of all nations around Jesus, from His childhood to His public ministry to His death, and finally to Him risen from the dead and with us now in His Church and especially in the Eucharist. And as they presented Him and His family with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, it is helpful to ask what gifts we provide for Jesus here and now.
The gold, frankincense and myrrh were both historical gifts offered long ago, and also symbols of the offerings of all the faithful. Gold was both fitting for a king, and practical for the Holy Family in their travels and establishment of a new home. And likewise, we offer God the honor due to our great King, abiding by His guidance as we welcome His Son. And we offer Him and His people the practical things of our lives, our time, treasure, talents, and good deeds, which make His Church more present on this earth
Frankincense, and incense generally, is a frequent element of worship in many religions. It reflects both our prayers rising up to heaven and the cloud of mystery and aura of holiness surrounding the divine, as with the cloud surrounding Mount Sinai and later Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration. Incense thus represents our prayers and lives of holiness, which unite the heavens and earth together.
All religious include prayers, but in the Christian faith, we know that the Son of God unites our prayers with the prayers of the angels and saints throughout space and time. God really does listen to us and speaks to us in the depths of our hearts. But to enter into this friendship with God, we must travel with His Son through Calvary to the Resurrection. And the gift of myrrh reflects this sacrificial journey.
Myrrh was a strange gift for a child, being an ointment used at burials, both for the scent and preservation of the body. It symbolized Christ’s future redeeming suffering and death, and the call for us to offer our lives in union with Jesus. The good news is that the struggles of this life are not merely burdens, but ways of bringing the power of the Cross to this earth.
And so, with the Magi, with the boy who offered loaves and fishes at the famous miracle, with the widow who offered two coins and the disciples who offered their lives, we are meant to offer God loyalty to His laws and practical help, prayers and lives of holiness, faithful sacrifices and patient struggles. Thus will we honor Christ now on earth and one day be welcome by Him into eternal joy.