My mother used to drive my family crazy. Often we would go to great trouble to find a gift for her that was just perfect, something we knew that she wanted very much. And we would scramble to find the money to buy the gift, or work our fingers to the bone to make the gift. And she would love it. And she would place the gift in a place of honor in the house and admire it. And then, as soon as someone came over to the house and admired her gift, she would give it away to them. And, well, this hurt quite a few feelings. But my mother could never understand this. Gifts were meant to be given away, after all, she would say.
Today the Roman Church celebrates the feast of the Epiphany. This is the day that the wise men came to the Christ child, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It seems to me highly questionable as to how wise these men were however, for those gifts would be of little use to a carpenter and his wife in first century Judea. A nice fruit basket, or baby clothes would have been a better idea. It is the official end of the Christmas (advent) season for the church. There are a number of interesting things about this story.
For one, although popular culture and tradition has three kings visiting the Christ child (We three kings of orient are, tried to smoke a rubber cigar...).
It does not state in the gospel exactly how many wise men there were. It only states that there are three GIFTS. There might have been any number of wise men. It also never says that they are kings. They are referred to as Magi (from which we get the word magician). Magi were among the priestly caste of Persia and these were most likely astrologers who had witnessed some celestial sign regarding the coming of a new king. Regardless of what may appear in countless Nativity Scenes throughout the world, at this point, Mary, Joseph and Jesus are no longer in the stable. The gospel according to Matthew specifically states that the Magi entered into, "the house" and saw the child.
To really gain any understanding of this story, we have to understand that the Gospel According to Matthew was written to the Jews. It is the only gospel written in Aramaic. It was supposed to convince the Judean population that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah who had been foretold in the scriptures. The prophet Isaiah had said, "All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the LORD." It had also been foretold that the Messiah would be born in the city of Bethlehem, ancestral home of David, the king.
Mark is the oldest of the gospels and it has no mention of the birth of Christ, nor the visit from the Magi. The gospel according to Mark begins with the baptism of Jesus. It is quite likely that these early stories of Jesus's life were concocted at a later time in order to bolster the argument that he was the anointed one, the deliverer. This may also be how we come to have the story of the virgin birth. The actual prophecy in Hebrew states that the messiah will be born to a maiden. Now in that time it was generally assumed that a maiden was also a virgin, but the two words were not synonymous. Most likely, Matthew, or rather, Matthew's disciples, for the gospel was written after Matthew's death, was trying to prove that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.
But for us, it doesn't really matter if the story is true or not. It is the spiritual lesson that really matters. Because in many ways, every child is that Christ child. Every child holds the promise of hope that perhaps this time, in this one, we will get it right. Maybe this generation will be the one that puts an end to warfare and bigotry and greed. Maybe this generation will be the one that takes this tired old planet and makes of it a new Garden of Eden. Every child holds that promise, that hope. And it is up to each one of us, as wise, to offer whatever gifts we have to help that child achieve the dream. We have a responsibility to the future to give our children the gifts they need in order to make this a better place, not just for them, but for their descendants as well. We are all Magi coming before the Christ child. Because the Christ-spirit dwells in the heart of every child on earth, in every person on earth.
Jesus said that whatever we do (or don't do, I might add) to the least of us, we do to him. When we give something of ourselves to someone else, we are giving to Christ, that Christ that lives in each person. The Eastern religions all understand that we are all of us God. We are all a part of that creative spirit that moves the universe, that grows a flower, that destroys a galaxy. We are all part of that spirit; and so that spirit is a part of us all. You are God. I am God. And every child is God also. Every child is a part of us, a piece of our collective soul. And so every single day we have the opportunity to offer whatever gifts we have to that Christ child, whoever that might be at that moment.
The word, Epiphany, came to us from the Greek through Old French, and means, "manifestation of the divine". This day (actually January 6th, but it is being celebrated today, the 8th) is referred to as the feast of the Epiphany because it is when the wise men recognized the baby Jesus as divine. But as Jesus himself points out, we are all manifestations of the divine. We are all the face of God. Today, the word epiphany is frequently misused to mean some sort of revelation, as in, "I had an epiphany." Well, I did have an epiphany as I looked up at the manger scene in church today. I considered how every child was that Christ child. I considered how in every child was the collected hope of mankind. Maybe this child would be that special child who would lead us all out of the darkness where we spend so much of our time. And indeed, each child does lead its parents out of darkness on a regular basis. Sometimes, no matter how down you feel, no matter how weighed down you are by the burdens of work, or school, or financial problems, your kid says something or does something and before you know it your heart melts, and you begin to smile, and you feel lighter for it.
There are those who don't feel particularly gifted. But we all have special gifts and talents to offer each other. Sometimes a person just needs the gift of someone to listen while they vent. Some of us are teachers. Some are earth mothers. Some are builders. Some have the gift of song. Some just help others to forget their problems for a little while. Some show us how to enjoy our lives. But each of us as some gift to give that divine child in front of us. Perhaps it’s time we learned that the only way to gain all the universe has to offer, is to give it all away.