How many of us know the song ‘We Three Kings of Orient?’
The basis for much of this song are from legend that developed from the biblical story.
Let’s separate legend from fact.
*ORIENT Fact…. The visitors bearing gifts were from the ‘orient’. For Matthew that was important, for it declares from the beginning of the gospel, that the message was not just for Jews, who had long understood themselves to be God’s chosen people. ‘From the orient’ declares… this is a message for all people.
*THREE Legend… We do not know how many visitors arrived from the East. The ‘three’ derives from the types of gifts that were offered…. gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts have symbolic meaning and we will talk about these later.
*KINGS Legend… The visitors were magi, or astrologers, not kings. However, when we hear passages such as ‘Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn’, we start to mix the stories.
What we know for sure is that the magi CAME to the place where they sensed God’s presence.
The magi were indeed ‘WISE’, for they knew they had to follow the star wherever it might lead them in order to discover God’s mighty deeds.
*They came to WORSHIP. The gifts are gifts of honour. They ‘bent the knee’ before the young child and humbly offered their gifts as signs of devotion.
*The gifts they offered were SYMBOLIC.
‘Gold’ was a gift to be offered to those in authority; in offering gold, Jesus was being honoured as a king.
‘Frankincense’ was an incense to be burnt and offered to a god. This gift honoured Jesus as Emmanuel, God-with-us.
Matthew mentions these gifts as they are they fulfil his understanding of the ‘gentiles coming to the brightness’ of God’s arising, and the gifts mentioned in that reading.
‘Myrrh’ was a gift of anointing… anointing of the dead. It is not mentioned in the Isaiah passage. It is Matthew’s understanding that even at Christ’s birth, his death was being foretold and acknowledged by the wise.
These were the gifts offered by the magi.
What gifts, of our time, our talents or our riches do we offer to God? Do we recognize that when we support the work of our churches or other service agencies in meeting the needs of the homeless, the poor, and others needing support, that we are giving a gift to God? In the book of Micah (6:6-8), the prophet declares that the gift that God desires the most is that we “seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.”