My dear friends in our Lord: glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
The past couple of Sundays, the Church has commemorated and had her children recall to mind the great forefathers of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we ourselves prepared for the celebration of the Birth of our Saviour.
And now that we are in the midst of our Nativity celebration, it is yet still not so different, for on this Sunday after the great feast of the Nativity of our Lord, the Church likewise commemorates three people who were close to Christ.
Firstly, we specifically commemorate the great ancestor of our Lord according to the flesh, the holy King and Prophet David, who foresaw the coming of Christ and wrote of it in his Psalms.
Secondly, we recall the righteous Saint Joseph the Betrothed, who was the Protector of the Mother of God and of her Divine Child – before, during, and after our Lord’s Nativity.
And thirdly, we remember the Saint James, who is called the “brother of the Lord,” who the most ancient tradition of the Church tells us accompanied the Holy Family on the flight into Egypt, and who later became an Apostle and indeed was martyred as Saint James the Righteous, the first Bishop of Jerusalem.
Today, however, I would like to recall to our attention three others who were closely associated with Christ at this time, and with whom today’s Gospel begins by mentioning, and that is the Three Wise Men, or the Magi.
Of course in the East, the Three Wise Men are, in fact, commemorated on the Feast of the Nativity, but they can often be overlooked on this day. Now, in the West, the visit of the Magi is specifically commemorated on the Feast of the Epiphany, just recently celebrated on the New Calendar, whereas in the East the Theophany, or the Epiphany, commemorates the Baptism of our Blessed Lord in the River Jordan. Therefore, this Sunday makes a good opportunity for us to consider, ever so briefly, the visit of the Three Wise Men, and to consider their gifts made unto the Newborn King, as well as to consider the example which they give to each and every one of us, and which sustains us even down to this very day.
The Wise Men, whom tradition tells us were three in number, at least the principal Wise Men were three in number, came from “the East,” it says, which variably is taken to mean Babylon, or Greater Persia, Arabia, and even as far as India. They came to Jerusalem to worship the Christ for they had seen a great sign – His Star, as they said – in the sky.
In recent times, various scientists and others have tried to identify this sign either as a specific star, supernova, comet, or else a conjunction of planets.
By tradition, however, we do not believe that the Wise Men found Christ by following any simple ‘star,’ or conjunction of planets, for we know from the Scriptures that the Wise Men found the Christ-Child because the ‘star’ stopped directly over the house where He was. Natural stars are not such that they move, stop, and stand over houses. The nature of the Star of Christ is not specifically revealed, and we should not seek to delve into speculation on the matter. Why? Because regardless of its nature, its end was obviously fulfilled, and that end is that it lead unto Christ.
So also should we not spend much concern – or worse, disdain – on considering the path which one has had to walk to come to the moment of conversion. Rather, let us rejoice when, like the Wise Men, we see that we are led unto the Lord and Saviour, the King of Kings.
The Wise Men came unto our Lord with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
In these we find a lesson as well. Gold represented the Kingship of Christ, that Kingship both Divine and Human. Like gold which never tarnishes, so the brilliance of our Lord’s Kingdom never falters, never wanes. And He truly is King, as I said, both divine and human. He is king both in the royal line of David – whose memory we celebrate today – and by divine right as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
In frankincense we find represented the Priesthood of Christ and his Godhead. For incense is offered even unto this day unto the Lord Almighty for a sweet-smelling savour, offered as an image of the sacrifices and prayers rising before the very throne of God, as we hear in the Apocalypse of Saint John, prayers activated – as it were – by the fervent souls, the hearts that burn within the faithful at the presence of God the Word. Our Lord as the Eternal High Priest enters into the Holy of Holies and offers the Perfect Sacrifice which is Himself.
Which leads us then to myrrh, in which we find represented the sacrifice of Christ and, ultimately His triumph over Death. For myrrh was used both as an astringent and pain-killing agent, as we see that our Lord was offered wine mixed with myrrh at His Crucifixion, as well as a preservative to be placed upon the body after one had died. We see this in the bringing of aloes and myrrh to the anointing of the most sacred Body of our Lord at His Burial. In a word, in the gift of myrrh, we see the divine Victimhood of Christ, that He is the One Who is offered in the Sacrfice.
Gold for the King. Frankincese for the Priest. Myrrh for the Victim. King, Priest, Victim. This, indeed, is what the Wise Men continue to teach us to this day. And for ourselves today, we may ask what significance these gifts have in our relationship with Christ and His Church.
Firstly, do we give gold to the Church? Now, I do not necessarily mean literally gold, but I do mean support, whether it be financial support, genuine moral support, or even just giving of your time and your talents. The fact is that the Church does need all these types of support in order to survive and to thrive. At this time of the year especially, it might be good for us to look again at how we support the Church in these respects. The Wise Men gave gold to Christ, which gold may well have paid for the Flight into Egypt. If we recognize the King, then let us ask how well do we give gold of our treasures, our times, and our talents to Christ?
Secondly, frankincense. Do we give frankincense to the Church, in the sight of the members of the Body of Christ? Now, again, I do not necessarily literally mean incense, though we certainly do offer this, and often. Rather, I mean do we offer respect, love of our neighbour, care for one another, and – most importanly – prayer for one another? This is how we can offer incense unto Christ, even if we do not have a thurible. We do so in praying and lifting up all whom we may meet, in showing honour and respect, and never hatred nor derision. By our prayers we lift all up before the eternal throne of God. By genuine prayer enlivened in a fervent heart which is alight with love and patience.
And finally, do we give myrrh to the Church? Again, I do not literally mean myrrh, I mean merciful love, compassion, and sacrifice to the needs of the Church, to the needs of our family, in indeed to all those whom we meet in our daily life, whoever they may be. Christ offers Himself as the pure and spotless victim, and he calls us to unite our own sacrifices unto Him, out of love for Him, and precisely by love for Him.
Remember again that myrrh was used to alleviate pain, to have mercy on one who was suffering. The Wise Men gave the mercy of myrrh to Christ. How do we show mercy to those around us who are all made in the image of Christ?
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. King, Priest, and Victim. And a call for us to give of our treasure, our prayer, and our mercy, so that we may be made like unto Him.
Thus we have it, dear friends. Let us on this Sunday after the Nativity look at what we may give to Christ, to those in His Church, and to those in His world. The Wise Men gave us the example of giving, now let us ask ourselves if we also are Wise.