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(Part 53)


January 6, 2013
Feast of the Three Kings

Today’s readings:
Psalm 72:1-13
Matthew 2:1-12

On this Feast of the Three Kings (Epiphany of our Lord), we focus on the three gifts brought by the kings (or the magi). They “offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Mt 2:11d). We are familiar with gold but not the other two.

Gold is, even today, a most precious metal. Frankincense is a fragrant gum resin used in ancient times in religious rites and in embalming. It was one of the consecrated incenses used in Jewish religious ceremonies. When burnt it emitted a fragrant odor, and the incense was symbol of the Divine name, its smoke symbolizing prayer rising to the heavens. It was also used for medicinal purposes. Myrrh is an aromatic gum resin with a bitter and slightly pungent taste. It derives from the Aramaic word “murr” meaning “was bitter.” It was so valuable in ancient times that it had been equal in weight value to gold. It has been used throughout history as a perfume, incense and medicine. It is effective for the cure of many diseases. It was also used by the ancient Egyptians for the embalming of mummies. Used for burials, it symbolized death.

All three gifts were fitting tributes to Jesus. Gold is a fitting offering for a king, and indeed Jesus is the King of all kings. Frankincense is a fitting offering to the Supreme Being in the heavens, and indeed Jesus is God. Myrrh is a fitting offering to the bitter cup that has to be drunk and the death that has to be undergone, and indeed Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb on the cross. On the cross he was offered wine mixed with myrrh, and Nicodemus brought myrrh and aloes for his burial. Jesus is the all-powerful King who is Almighty God, but who has to suffer death in agony on the cross.

Both frankincense and myrrh are used for worship and for medical treatment of people, thus relating to both God and man. Both frankincense and myrrh are used for medicine and for burial, thus relating to both life and death. Frankincense and myrrh connect God to us and us to God. They remind us that our life came from God, and at the end of our life we look to return to God.

The three gifts have to do not only with Jesus, but also with us. We are offerers of these gifts. We recognize Jesus as King, and we are his servants. We worship Jesus as God, and we are God’s children. We look to Jesus drinking the bitter cup, and we are his soldiers doing battle on earth, suffering and dying for his cause.

To offer these three gifts to Jesus is to be his disciple. If we wish to come after him, we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. To deny oneself is to be a servant, working tirelessly and sacrificially for the Master. To take up one’s cross is to be a soldier, engaged in spiritual warfare under the banner of the cross. To follow him is to be a Son, restored by him to being children of God.

If we relate to God in this way, we also relate to each other, as part of the body of Christ on earth. We do not only offer our individual gift to God, but we together offer our gifts, like the magi. As such, being servants, sons and soldiers in our relationship to God, we are also, as Paul described Epaphroditus, co-workers, brothers and fellow soldiers (comrades-in-arms) in our relationship with each other. As such we serve together, we love one another and we assault the kingdom of darkness as an army.

We have just celebrated the birth of Jesus, we continue to prostrate ourselves before him and do him homage (Mt 2:11b), and now we have offered our gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Let us go forth into the world and boldly proclaim Jesus as King and Lord. “May all kings bow before him, all nations serve him.” (Ps 72:11).

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