Behold, a nationally-known geneticist, a retired statesman and a leader in information technology arrived at the home of a young couple in a small Midwestern farming community asking, “Where is the newborn baby who will grow up to rule the world?”
No, Matthew didn’t put it quite that way, but isn’t that pretty much what happened? Three very prominent persons seemingly come out of nowhere; unlikely givers bringing unlikely gifts to a most unlikely recipient. Are the gifts of myrrh (symbol of human life and death), frankincense (symbol of priests and protectors of the law) and gold (precious metal and means of exchange) so different from what we might bring today? Like all gifts, these speak of both the one to whom the gift is offered and of the one bringing the gift.
But Scripture also says that, before opening their treasures and offering them to the child, they “prostrated themselves and did him homage.” Most of us have enjoyed both giving and receiving gifts over the last few days. Perhaps we have even taken time to remember why we give gifts at Christmas. But have we also taken the time to give homage? Do we remember not only why the gifts are given but also who it is that makes it possible for us to give them? Do we know ourselves as the most unlikely recipients of the greatest gift of all?
Jesus was born in a most unlikely place. The magi traveled a great distance, following a star in faith to find him. What about us, here in 21st-century America? In what unlikely darkness might we find the child? And when we do, will we know him? Will we recognize him and do him homage — in the supermarket parking lot among frenzied shoppers taking advantage of after-Christmas sales? In the eyes of an old woman sitting alone at a restaurant table?
Each of the wise men brought what he felt was most precious. What do we bring? What in our own lives do we value enough to give to our God? It is time now to decide … the baby is waiting.
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.