It’s the feast of the Epiphany! The Wise Men have followed a star that has taken them to Jesus (who is a baby–once again!) so they can pay Him homage. I was going to launch into a neat little historical background about the Wise Men, but after doing about an hour of research I discovered that the story is not so neat.
The Bible doesn’t specifically say there were three wise men, but rather just refers to “Magi from the east.” These visitors may have come from Iraq, Iran or Saudi Arabia. The star they saw may have acutally been a comet or some other celestial being. As for their names–Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar–those don’t show up in the Bible either. (Let’s also note here that there is absolutely no mention of a little drummer boy visiting the newborn child. As catchy as that song may be, it has always driven me crazy.)
Well, let’s stick to the biblical stuff. However many Wise Men there were, they brought the baby three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. The question that crops into my mind each year is, what is an infant going to do with myrrh? Even here, there is no definitive explanation as to why these were the gifts presented to Jesus. I did find three possible options:
- They represented Jesus’ status. Gold was for kingship, frankincense was for His priestly nature, and myrrh symbolized His future death and resurrection.
- More practically, gold was a valuable coin that could have helped Mary, Joseph and Jesus in their flight to Egypt; frankincense would have been useful for sanctuary offerings and sacrifices; and myrrh would have been used to consecrate priests, temples and kings.
- Symbolically, gold represented charity, frankincense represented faith, and myrrh represented hope.
Personally, option three feels especially pleasing and very pertinent to this day. Even if you don’t believe in the story of Jesus and the gifts of the Magi, you can get behind the idea of charity, faith and hope. However the story is told, the visitation by the Magi should hopefully inspire us to offer those three gifts to each other every day.