READINGS: Isaiah 60:1-6 / Ephesians 3:2-6/ Matthew 2:1-12
The Epiphany of the Lord

The Christmas story of the wise men’s visit to the infant Jesus is fascinating, especially, to many children. We, however, need to go beyond the fascination to see the lessons it has for our lives today. Lessons could be taken from the encounter between the wise men and King Herod, from the dangers the wise men encountered and the sacrifices they made during their long journey to Bethlehem, the star which guided them, the angelic message which warned not to return to King Herod, their prostration before the infant Jesus and the gifts they offered to the new born King.

This homily focuses on only some lessons we could draw from the type of gifts the wise men offered Jesus. As recorded in the gospel reading, they offered him gold, frankincense and myrrh. By reflecting on the values or significances of these gifts, we may be able to arrive at what we could also offer Jesus today.

The Gift of Gold: gold, unlike compound metals (e.g. bronze), is a natural metal. That is, it is as old as the earth itself. It has been in existence for millions of years. Therefore, in human reckoning it could be seen as ‘timeless’ and durable. This, probably adds to the fact that it is considered a precious metal or mineral. Besides physical gold, then, what can we offer Jesus as our gold? Firstly, we can offer him our souls, which more than gold, are timeless or everlasting. Secondly, ours souls are priceless and are worth more than gold: ‘what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?’ (Mark 8:36) How, then, do we offer Jesus our souls? We do so, by believing, worshipping and obeying him.

Gold is also associated with wealth. We may not have a solid piece of gold or golden jewelry, but once we freely offer some material treasure or our precious time or valued expertise for the spread of the good news of Christ and the development of his Church, we are offering him gold like the wise men did.

Furthermore, gold is also associated with royalty. Indeed, traditionally, it is said that the wise men offered gold to the infant Jesus because of his royalty. In other words, it was because they believed that he was a new-born king. Hence, their prostration even before they offered him their gifts. Similarly, our worship of him is our way of acknowledging that he is our King and indeed the King of kings, and more so he is divine.

Jesus was found him in a manger. Today, Jesus does not lie in physical mangers. Rather, he desires the spiritual mangers of our hearts. Let us not be worried just in case our hearts are not holy. He who laid in the manger of Bethlehem despite the stench of the waste of the animals, desires to enter our hearts irrespective of the spiritual stench therein. Let us, therefore, make Jesus the King of our hearts, however, smelly they may be, for he is in the business of cleansing hearts: ‘I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners’ (Matt. 9:13; GN).

The Gift of Frankincense: Incense is used in priestly service or worship in which priests play leading roles (cf. Luke 1:8-12). Today, therefore, anytime we worship the Lord in ‘spirit and in truth’ (John 4:24) we are, like the wise men, offering Jesus frankincense. Furthermore, when our lives exhibit priestly holiness, then we are offering Jesus frankincense. More pleasing to God than the offering of material incense is a life of holiness. Let us, therefore, make use of the graces of God to lead holy lives.

Also, the sweet smell of frankincense is symbolic of a sacrifice pleasing to God. Now, since a reality is more valuable than its symbol, so our actual sacrifices are more pleasing to God than material incense. But since Jesus has offered the one perfect sacrifice, we can only offer ‘spiritual sacrifices’ (Rom. 12:1-2) of giving up anything (good or bad) which could contaminate our spirits.

Frankincense is also symbolic of prayer (cf. Psalm 141:2). Again, since a reality is more valuable than its symbol, so our actual prayers are more important than material incense. So let us constantly pray to God: ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thess. 5:17).

The Gift of Myrrh: myrrh is used for embalming corpses before burial, and so it signifies preservation from corruption. Today, Jesus Christ does not need myrrh since he is already risen from the dead. However, the Church, which is his body (cf. Eph. 5:23), needs to be preserved from moral corruption or decay. On one hand, this is the work of Christ himself, but on the other hand we the members of his body have a role to play. Firstly, as the dishonour of one member of his body means dishonour for the whole body (cf. 1 Cor. 12:26), so each of us should endeavour to avoid any action or lifestyle which puts the Church in disrepute. Positively put, by leading holy lives we offer Christ spiritual myrrh for the spiritual embalmment of his body (the Church) against corruption. Secondly, by teaching and encouraging other members of the body to avoid sin and rather lead holy lives, we offer Jesus the spiritual myrrh for the spiritual embalmment of his body against corruption.

Conclusion: Like the gold offered to the Lord by the wise men, let us offer him our timeless souls and our treasures; and for his royal throne, let us offer him our hearts. Then, like the frankincense offered to the Lord, let us offer him our worship, prayers and spiritual sacrifices. Finally, like the myrrh presented to the Lord, may our holy lives and our teaching of others to lead holy lives become spiritual embalmment of his body, the Church. Amen!

By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis

Bishop John Kobina Louis

Most Rev. John Kobina Louis is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Accra, Ghana. More about him here.

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Catholic Homilies and Sermons for the Liturgical Year by Most Rev. John Kobina Louis, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Accra, Ghana.

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