Gold, frankincense, and myrrh — gifts from the treasure chests of three magi, wise men, traveling from afar, bending down to worship the newborn baby Jesus. The value of gold to hail him as king, as ruler. The sweet smell of frankincense to honor his divinity. The soothing balm of myrrh already to prepare this newborn for burial, for the wood of his manger is that of his throne, a rough-hewn wooden cross.
For quite some time, the church has thought of these magi, these wise men as kings, an extra-biblical tradition that both church and society apparently want to keep up. Maybe it’s a power thing. The idea of three kings bending low to Jesus. Maybe it’s the outfits. Infatuation with glittering jewels and long, flowing robes. Maybe it’s envious imagination. A certain longing to be royal. Rich. Powerful. Influential. Maybe it’s wanting to be with Jesus. To be like those magi, those wise men three who gathered in the presence of Jesus. (Never mind the animals and their stench, the stable’s tight quarters, and the interminable journey to Bethlehem, on private camelback, not private jet.)
Whether we call these three magi, wise men or women, kings or queens is an issue we should resolve not to resolve. There are upsides and downsides to whatever we call them. But there is only upside to continued reflection. For we can never seek to learn enough; never over consider the implications of our words or our labels; never go wrong with thinking through even the longest-held truths with fresh perspective.
Because no matter what we call these three who came to Bethlehem from afar, we are them. Filled with their power or not. All of us kneeling before a meek and humble king who rules by giving himself away. We are them. Some with plenty and others without much. All of us bearing whatever we have as holy gifts for this holy One. We are them. From near and far. All of us traveling to a stable at the rear of a traveler’s inn, seeking its manger-trough. People like us, bringing gifts to God.
Of course God doesn’t need our gifts. Jesus doesn’t need our gifts, just as Jesus didn’t need the gifts offered to him by the magi, but the world does. For our world is shaped
more and more by fewer and fewer people taking more and more. A few private treasure chests overflowing, while others go empty. Giving like the magi helps us rediscover God’s abundance for all.
Jesus doesn’t need the gifts offered to him, but the church does. Not to keep the doors open, or the lights on. But to face what the church for so many centuries has not wanted to face: that the treasure of the church is nothing other than the motley crew that is the sinful, but faithful, lot of us. Giving like the magi helps us rediscover God’s grace for all.
Jesus doesn’t need the gifts offered to him, but our society does. For we are captive to glitz and glamour, rugged individualism, hollow promises. Giving like the magi helps us rediscover God’s gift of vibrant community for all.
So dear friends, come and give your gifts. The polished ones and the tarnished ones. The expensive ones and the modest ones. The memorable ones and the common ones.
Come and give your gifts, whoever you are, from whatever place you come, with whatever dwells in your heart. For God receive those gifts as God in Christ Jesus received the magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
And for the sake of the world, God gives a gift, too. A gift received by the magi. A gift received by us, today. The very best gift. The gift of a child, Christ Jesus, who this day you cradle in the palm of your hand and touch to your edge of your lips. The magi beheld his presence. And by God’s grace, we behold, too. God with us. Dwelling in us. The gift that helps us see what we are, what we all are: children of God. Beloved children of God who give, not to get anything in return, but who give in confidence that whatever we offer will bring hope to a weary world, light to those who sit in fear and in the shadow of death, peace and joy to all the earth.