PODCAST - Press sideways triangle below to listen
Feast of the Epiphany, Cycle A
Mercy Ridge Hermitage
January 5, 2020
Gifts and Givers; Gifts and Receivers
(Rev. Msgr.) Nicholas P. Amato
The Magi’s Gifts
Today’s gospel story is very familiar to us – we hear it every year at Christmastime.
We hear about these somewhat mysterious people called magi who come from some country east of Israel. They apparently are priests or recognized spiritual leaders in some other religion.
And they bring gifts to the newborn Jesus: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts are symbolic in two ways.
First, gold has long been considered as the most precious of all metals and so, in Jesus’ day, it was seen as an appropriate gift for a king. These magi are then recognizing Jesus as in some way a king – the King of the Jews, but more than that, the king of everyone on this earth.
This must be so because the magi themselves are not Jews. So, the gold symbolizes Jesus’ unique spiritual authority.
Then, the myrrh was a fragrant resin that came from a tree. It was used in making lotions or creams for the body and also in preparing the body of a deceased person for burial.
So, myrrh symbolizes the humanity of Jesus. He is human, like you and me.
And then, frankincense was a substance made from wood chips and fragrant oils. In Jesus’ day, it was used in the temple services and at times, we still use incense here at Mass to worship God.
This gift symbolizes that Jesus is divine. In fact, it expresses that in some amazing way he is God, here on earth, among us.
So, the gifts of the magi are symbolic because of what they represent about the newborn Jesus. But they are also symbolic because they speak of what the magi are giving to God.
The giving of their best material gifts to God symbolizes the giving of their best personal gift to God – the gift of themselves. We also see this giving of themselves in the time and energy they expend in finding the newborn Jesus.
These gifts of the magi recall for me our gifts here at Mass.
As we begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist, bread and wine are brought to the altar. These gifts are also symbolic in two ways.
First, they symbolize Jesus’ sacrifice of himself on the cross. Jesus gave us these gifts at the Last Supper and told us to use them as a way to remember what he did for us.
In fact, these gifts of bread and wine are even more than symbolic of Jesus. We believe that they actually become the body and blood of Christ himself.
And then, these gifts also symbolize the gift of ourselves to God. They symbolize that we, much like the magi, choose to God the very best that we have.
At this point in the Mass, we are to offer ourselves and our lives to God – how we live, how we relate to others, how we go about our jobs or our studies or household responsibilities, our goals and our sufferings and on it goes.
This is the underlying meaning of the words that the priest speaks soon after the bread and wine are presented at the altar. The priest says: “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”
On one level, we are speaking of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. But on another level, the words of the priest are a reminder that each of us makes our own gift or offering or sacrifice here.
That’s why the priest says: “Pray, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable…” The bread and wine also symbolize this giving of ourselves to God.
So, the gifts of the magi say something about who Jesus is and about who the magi are and what they are really giving.
In a similar way, our gifts of bread and wine here at Mass say something about Christ and Christ’s presence and also about who we are and what we are really giving to God. Let’s keep that in mind especially today as the bread and wine are brought to the altar.