I love the mystery and mysticism of the magi. I love the traditions around them and the music that accompanies Epiphany when we celebrate their arrival to the side of Jesus. I am about half way through a book about the Persians and in my reading I discovered something about the magi. Their title of Magi is directly derived from the Old Persian magus used to refer to the religious caste of Zoroastrianism. They were the ones responsible for studying the movements of the stars and would actually become known for the development of astrology. They came to the cradle side as wise men, learned individuals, as men of their religion looking to be amongst the first to welcome in the son of God.
The magi would have had some knowledge of the Jewish scriptures indicating that they kept an understanding of the many differing beliefs of the surrounding lands. So these magi looked out over the night skies knowing the predictions from the scriptures and the prophets of old and they saw a great star beaming brightly in the sky. They went back to their studies to check when the Christ child was supposed to be born and then set about preparing themselves for their long journey. They prepared themselves knowing they were to sacrifice 3 years time in their quest. They searched for a savor, as some people today scour the scriptures in search of the timing of the second coming. They were no different than you and I. They searched and longed for God’s presence in an uncertain world.
The Magi gathered their belongings, food, money and the perfect gift for a king before starting their 1,000 mile journey walking across mountains, through deserts, cities, villages, and towns until they arrived at the cradle three years later. What they brought was Frankincense (expensive oil made from the saps of trees) which was a privilege for a person to have. It would have been used as incense and was very fragrant. They brought Myrrh which was very expensive and from tree sap and not all families had access to it. Myrrh was used for embalming the body after death a privilege that only the very important received. And then they brought Gold, like today it was a precious metal that only the elite and those in power were allowed to own or wear. These were expensive gifts of honor meant to show admiration to the royal child in infancy, in life, and in death. Jesus was a king to pay homage to. And so he should be ours.
In epiphany, many people do not contemplate how we show our homage to the king of kings. We don’t always think about what we should be giving to him because we have received so much from Christ. What could we possibly give that might add up? It is like the little drummer boy sings in his Christmas song, “What have I to give? All I have is my song.” This is a song I believe we all can identify with, as we all struggle with gift giving and finding the perfect gift for the people we love.
I have been told that I am one of those people who can be difficult to shop for by friends and family. And I have ended up with some odd gifts because of it. One year, I ended up with a pair of fleece feety pajamas that were three sizes too big for me. They were the most uncomfortable pajamas I ever had.
What made this gift perfect was not the item but rather the joy and love on my friends face as I opened it. It was the thought that mattered. So too it is the same when we come before the cradle of Christ. We too need to put thought into what we offer up to the Christ child not only in this season but throughout the year. It isn’t about whether he will like the item, it isn’t always in the form of a material gift like in the case with the drummer boy. But it is the heart that we put into what we do for others in the name of Christ. This offering is better than all the expensive oils and precious metals or jewels that this world could give.
What makes a gift special is the intent behind it. So this morning, as we contemplate the journey of the wise men and the gifts they offered to the young Christ, we should be contemplating what we have to offer. What will our gift to the newborn King be? We are no different than the wise men. We have seen a star shining in the distance and so we join together as one people searching for Christ within this world and within our lives. It is our challenge to live our lives as if they were intended to be gifts to Christ brightening the world as Frankincense, preserving the life and ways of Christ as Myrrh embalms the body and honoring the life of Christ as Gold honors those who receive it. Remember what our scriptures have said, “Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh”. We come to Christ today searching as the magi did, searching for what we could possibly offer to the son of God, who gave us his life.
We are given so much in Christ. He has sacrificed so much, loved so much, and overcome so much, for us. What can we possibly give to show our love and dedication that will match his gift to us? St. Francis of Assisi wrote, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; when there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand, to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying [to ourselves] that we are born to eternal life.” Perhaps, we are being called to give to Christ that which is the most sincere, the most authentic, the most personal, our love and devotion for him through our care of others, through the way we live our lives. So this year, what do you plan to offer in the name of Christ?
 Matthew 2: 11, NRSV.
 St. Francis of Assisi, 13th Century.
(based on Matthew 2: 1-12)