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The gifts of the wise

Andrea Mantegna’s Adoration of the Magi (1495-1505).
THE BIBLE tells us that wise men (perhaps astrologers) came from the East looking for the child born King of the
Jews (Matt 2:1,2).

Finally when they found the child Jesus they knelt down and paid him homage.

They then opened their treasure chests and offered gifts of gold, frankincense (an expensive perfume), and myrrh (cosmetic fragrance) (Matt 2:11).

That such an act is portrayed variously on every second Christmas card today is quite amazing.

Herod, the official king of Israel, representing the Roman Emperor, would pay no such homage, but instead felt threatened.
Some have suggested that the gold symbolised monarchy, the frankincense divinity and the myrrh represented death.

While certainly representing different aspects of the nature of Jesus, this is probably drawing too much out of the story and is unlikely in terms of Matthew’s way of telling the good news of Jesus.

Nevertheless, this act of generous giving and homage is still important in the world of the Gospel.

They certainly are gifts fit for a king.

The odd thing is that such affluent people could come so far to honour an unknown child in an everyday house in Bethlehem.

God’s ways are upside down to the norm.

Interestingly the ancient prophet in Isaiah 60 speaks of a time to come when people from the nations will come from far away bringing the wealth of the nations.

“They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.” (Isa 60:6b – NRSV).

Is Matthew saying the time is now starting to happen, spoken of old, when the Gentiles come to hear the word of the Lord and all peoples from all walks of life can now pay homage to the Chosen One of God?

Matthew’s gospel begins this way and finishes with the command for the gospel message to go out to the Gentiles(28:19).

The good news is for all, near and far.

Therefore what is worth sitting up and taking notice of is the fact that we have such unlikely people (note the Bible doesn’t ever say there were three of them) from outside Israel (geographically and religiously – i.e. they were Gentiles) bringing gifts to the King of the Jews and they pay him homage.

This taps into what had been said in ancient times of Israel.

Now exciting things are beginning to happen!

Are there parts in us like Herod, unwilling to allow the reign of Christ to be fully appreciated?

Are there areas of our life which don’t pay homage to the ruler of the world?

The story invites the whole of us, whoever we are, like the wise men, to pay homage to Jesus and to offer our own
precious giftedness to the service of Christ.

Photo : Andrea Mantegna’s Adoration of the Magi (1495-1505).