The gifts we offer
Revd Seamus Hargrave reflects on how we might emulate the Magi
This Christmas, throughout our diocese, churches and homes will set aside a special place for a nativity scene: a place to make visibly present that moment which so radically altered the very nature of our beings and world two thousand years ago.
If your church is like mine, you might notice some important characters are missing from the crib: I do not put the Wise Men, or Magi, in until the 6th January, Epiphany. Although this can make the nativity scene feel incomplete, even yearning, I think this can convey a very powerful message. The Magi are missing from the crib because they come later. They were not there at the birth and so, in many ways, they represent us, our ancestors, our children, and indeed everyone who was born, or came, too late to witness the birth, the initial event, but still come to, and join in, the mission of Christ.
The Magi came following a star, a sign - something perceptible, yes, but also small and possibly misleading. There was no concrete message of what it meant: just trust, hope. Maybe we too come to Christ following something small, insignificant, bizarre. Maybe a story told in our youth, maybe a feeling of incompleteness, a yearning in our hearts, maybe a literal star, or guide. Nevertheless, still each year we come around the Nativity, with the Magi, to worship and pay homage to this infant in whom is peace to end all wars and who brings heaven to earth. And in gathering around this scene, with the Magi, we also offer our gifts.
Gold: the rich abundance of the earth, the material resources that enable us to live contented happy lives. Perhaps some of us can offer, from our abundance: the skills we have built up in our past life; the time we have found in retirement; the property or wealth we have amassed to the mission and spread of the Gospel. But it doesn’t always have to be this - the Magi brought other gifts too.
Frankincense: the perfume burnt in temples to show veneration. Perhaps some of us can only offer our worship, our thanks, our amazement at a world so vast and beautiful as God’s creation. Thus offer ourselves to better and maintain its beauty, to go on witnessing to the numerous fingerprints left by God in our world.
Myrrh: foreboding sorrow, the oil used to anoint the dead, the last-ditch attempt to smell some sweetness before the stench of corruption and decay sets in. In a Church still emerging from the restrictions of lockdown; in a country so radically scarred by Covid and want; in a world so wounded and fragmented, perhaps some of us can only offer our sorrow, our grief, our anger and indignation at a world as torn apart and corrupted as ours. Perhaps we can only offer our anger, our restless desire, our commitment to strive for better.
Whatever our offerings, whatever we bring, still we shall come, as the Magi of long ago, with our gifts, great and small, and gather around the birth of our true King to offer them all to his service and mission. This season we remember the infant who dedicated his life on earth to our peace and our salvation, who joined in our very flesh and blood so that he might fully share in everything that we are and do. This Christmas as we, like the Magi of old, gather around the crib of Christ’s birth, let us offer, not only our gifts - our worship, our sorrow and anger - but most of all, ourselves. Let us offer our very lives to the God who has no hands or feet in this world but ours; to the God whose nature is love and whose desire is peace is freedom. Let us each offer and commit ourselves to following Jesus Christ.