I am spending my first Christmas in the little town of Emlenton, PA. I have been the pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish since April of 2013. The town is situated in the Allegheny River valley in Northwestern Pennsylvania. At the top of the river valley ridge, there is a very bright electric star shining. It seems to hover above the town, and is visible everywhere in the town. For weeks, I have looked up towards the star, and pondered many things. They lead me to think about gifts.
Epiphany is like a little Christmas. It is the celebration that brought us the tradition of gift giving. We give each other gifts on Christmas because the 3 Wise Men brought gifts to the newborn Christ. We sometimes give gifts that are not suited to the occasion. But the 3 Wise Men brought gifts that were fit for a King, although they might seem rather impractical to us. The first gift brought to the baby Jesus by the Magi was:
1. Gold – Gold was a gift for a King. Gold symbolized the power and riches of a kingly man. By bringing gold, the Magi are communicating that they believe the newborn Jesus is a King. They recognize His special nature through their gracious gift.
2. The second gift brought was frankincense. This was a costly form of incense. Incense has always been used as a symbol of prayer to God/gods. It still is used for this purpose today. The gift of frankincense shows that the Magi believed that the baby Jesus was not only a king, but also a divine king. One does not bring incense as a gift for no ordinary child. This incense is a form of worship. The baby is divine. While I am sure that the Magi did not exactly have the definition of the Council of Chalcedon in their minds, they understood that this child was more than a man, but God.
3. The third gift brought was myrrh. This is the gift that is least familiar to us. Myrrh was a substance used in the ancient world to prepare a body for burial. What a strange gift for an infant, acknowledged to be both a king and God! But what did this gift mean symbolically? It meant that this child was destined for burial, destined for death. Even though He was a divine king, the Magi knew that this child was destined to die. They could not have known about the Cross and Resurrection. Even still, this gift is a prophecy of what the Son would go through to save us from our sinfulness.
These gifts are strange gifts to bring to a child. Still, they tell us that the Magi understood the true identity of this child. We, too, have many gifts to offer Christ. They seem sometimes to be inappropriate. Our gifts often feel ill-suited to the occasion. But if we bring them with faithfulness, just as the Magi did, then we can be assured that God will use them. After all, this is a “Vocations” blog. What is a vocation, if not the gift of one’s entire life, handed over to God?
The greatest gift we can give to God is our love, our will, our life. We may seem like a misfit, but we are the gift that God needs to be given for God’s glory to be revealed. Don’t lose heart!