We know so little about these the Magi travelers we hear about again today. Tradition says there were 3 of them because of their gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. The Venerable Bede records their names but his is the first mention of Gaspar, Balthazaar and Melchoir. Empress Helena had a vision of where their bodies lay and their relics still lie in Cologne Cathedral. But who they actually were we do not know.
All we know is that they came from the non-Jewish, Gentile East. They have become known as kings, perhaps to add some royal colour to the stable scene where the Prince of Peace was born, but they were astrologers, diviners, fortune tellers. traditional healers. They didn’t worship God, they were sort of miracle workers, magicians, and spiritual charlatans that both the Old and New Testament warn very clearly about. They are non Jews, Gentiles, not part of God’s elect. What are they doing paying homage to the Jewish Messiah in the first place?
These ‘wise ones’ will have travelled quite some distance too, possibly from as far away as Persia, modern day Iran and Iraq. They will have travelled on foot, on horseback, on camels the 1000 miles or so guided by their star charts. Their reading of the stars seems to have shown something else about this child.
The gifts that they brought - gold, frankincense and myrrh reveal that they knew something of the future of this child. Gold was the most costly of metals and was generally only afforded by royalty. By bringing gold the Magi has discerned that this child was some sort of King. Frankincense was the mostly costly of spices and scents, and it was burned in the Temple by Jews and symbolised the prayers of the people, the holiness and presence of God. By bringing incense the Magi had discerned that this child was something to do with the Divine - perhaps some sort of priest. Myrrh was a healing balm used to heal wounds a strange gift for one so young. By bringing Myrrh that Magi somehow understood that this child was destined to heal wounds.
The feast of the Epiphany has somewhat been eclipsed by the feast of Christmas, but in some ways what we celebrate today is far more significant, but it has been lost either in the packing away of the decorations, or the supposed simplicity of the story of the birth of a child in poverty. Christmas marks the miraculous birth of a fragile infant but it is only today that we fully realise that this child is God Incarnate the Saviour of the world.
In the arrival of these dusty tired strangers, with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh God’s lordship in Christ as King, Priest and Saviour and Healer of the wounds of sin is revealed. As the Magi come to pay him homage God reveals through these sages that his circle of salvation is not closed around the Jews but open to all people. This is the scandal of salvation. This Messiah is not just for the Jews but for all people. God welcomes us all - male, female, black, white, whatever language we speak.
As God reveals to the world again today His Christ, he calls the Church with wise men, to look again with awe and wonder at His Incarnate Son. As we look God calls all to acknowledge His Christ as the King of all nations and peoples and to work to build His kingdom of justice and peace which extends beyond the boundaries of Israel. In these days of gun battles in our suburbs and ongoing peacekeeping in the nations whose people were first to know who this baby is as Prince of Peace, our action cannot be that of passive concern but that of active love for each other that extends hospitality and welcome to such as those gather round his crib - single mothers, the poor and destitute, the foreigner and stranger.
As we look God calls all to acknowledge His Christ as the intermediary and way to God and a true revealing of the nature of God - love. As Priest for all the world, by faith Christ calls each person to have the privileged place as Son or Daughter of God no matter in what circumstances you were born. In societies of faith and none torn apart by division and fundamentalisms, as those who know Him as His children must bring our world to God through Him through our prayers. We must also allow ourselves to be open though to bringing Him to our world through our lives.
As we look, God calls us to acknowledge His Christ as the Saviour who heals the wounds of sin. Sin being the things that mar our relationship with our past, present and future, with others and with God Himself. We can strive to live a certain way, but we so often fail. Only God can set aside the implications of our life choices that shatter those relationships. Only God can restore that which we have broken.
As the Wise Ones offer their strange gifts to the Christ, they find themselves with open hands, hands ready to receive, on our behalf, what He offers back to the world. We we gaze into the crib, ready to receive His peace, His hospitality to the outsider, His love for us as Sons and Daughters of God, His making new in us, others and Him a relationship - what can we offer to Him?
All we can offer is open hands. Open hearts, open lives ready to receive and share all that He offers the world always and for all time. The Wise Ones offered gifts that cost everything. Nothing is held back, everthing is offered: here mirrors God’s gift. Hands are opened to receive and then to give.
The Methodist Covenant Prayer, typically used at this time of year, grasps God's open-handed gift of Jesus, and displays a Magi-like open-handed understanding of what our response can only be:
"I am no longer my own but yours. Your will, not mine, be done in all things, wherever you may place me, in all that I do and in all that I may endure; when there is work for me and when there is none; when I am troubled and when I am at peace. Your will be done when I am valued and when I am disregarded; when I find fulfilment and when it is lacking; when I have all things, and when I have nothing. I willingly offer all I have and am to serve you, as and where you choose. Glorious and blessèd God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. May it be so for ever. Let this covenant now made on earth be fulfilled in heaven. Amen."