Whatever way we may like to describe this feast it is all about a 'showing', the East calls it theophany, the appearance of a God, the West the manifestation of a revelation, in this case Christ to the Gentiles in the guise of the Magi, whatever way we cloak the language of the feast it is about lots of realizations. A journey ended only to find another to begin, of the immense openness of our God to anybody who searches, no matter who or what they are. Of choices, to follow Christ as the Magi or discard him like Herod and the religious leaders.
But in essence this day is also a celebration of our journey begun but not ended, of a call heard and not yet finally, fully understood, of following a star, a Morning Star that never sets and yet fills us, not with an external light, but something deep within us.
The Magi, figures from a pagan past, maybe priestly characters or soothsayers, are in one way very unlikely characters to perceive the Divine One made present in the Christ Child at Bethlehem. In tradition they served a monarch whose great title was 'King of Kings', a higher mortal than all on earth and also filled with divinity, perhaps they came to seek out more power for their King and instead discovered what true power is, that of being real before a baby, who strips away all titles and symbols so that in contrast the poverty of the Bethlehem reveals the heart of God beating amongst us!
I like to reimagine their gifts as ours, the Gold of an Obedience that reflects many facets of the voice of God shining through our daily journey with others who help us discern that voice of God, that is the gold of offering life lived not just for oneself but with and for our neighbour.
Frankincense, the offering of the sweet sacrifice of life and prayer, but also the veil that hides us from God, the cloud of unknowing, so perhaps today it symbolizes the offering of self so we become brother, sister for others.
Myrrh is also incense, a bitter gum used in medicine where it has a number of amazing properties, but it is also used in liturgy and very profoundly in the East as part of Holy Myron, the oil of chrism, that anointing oil of the Spirit. So here today that gift for us is the call to be as the Spirit wills.
May this day be a blessing on us, may we ever reveal by our search, the guiding star of our life that will lead others to find Christ!
From the Exultet
May this flame be found still burning
by the Morning Star:
the one Morning Star who never sets,
Christ your Son,
who, coming back from death's domain,
has shed his peaceful light on humanity,
and lives and reigns for ever and ever.
Bede's commentary on Revelation
Christ is the morning star who when the night of this world is past brings to his saints the promise of the light of life and opens everlasting day.
Fr Robin Gibbons is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for the Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church Oxford