An Epiphany Story

     I’m fairly sure all my Gentle Readers know the story of the Magi and their gifts to the Christ Child. Today – the first Sunday after New Year’s Day – is the day when Catholics celebrate the Epiphany, which includes that momentous visit to the Holy Family from three of the most learned men of the Eastern world. I prefer to deem that event to be the true inception of the Christmas gift-giving practice, rather than Saint Nicholas of Myra’s gifts of coins to young women unable to raise a dowry.

     For those who’d like an elaborate explanation of the Magi and their gifts, my personal exegesis is here. But for the rest, and for those who’ve already read that earlier piece and would like something new, here’s a kinda-sorta joke, supplied to me this morning by my pastor, Monsignor Christopher Heller:

     When Janie turned thirteen, her parents decreed that she was old enough to take public transit unaccompanied. For her first such venture, she decided to visit her grandmother, who had recently moved into an apartment in Manhattan. The prospect excited Janie, for not only did she love her grandmother, she loved to visit the city, and any reason to go there was sufficient. But Janie had not previously visited Grandma in her new apartment, so she rang up to ask for directions.

     Grandma was most explicit about which buses and subways to take, and how to get from the last subway to her apartment building. But at that point, her directions became…unusual.

     “When you get to my building,” Grandma said, “go to the panel of buttons at the left side of the entrance, and push the button labeled 309 with your elbow. That’s my apartment number. When I hear the buzz, I’ll buzz you into the building. From there, you go into the building lobby, where you’ll find the elevators. Push the Up button with your elbow and get into the first elevator car that arrives. Before the door closes, push the button labeled 3 with your elbow. That’s my floor. When you get there, get off and head left down the hallway to the door labeled 309. Push the doorbell button with your elbow, and I’ll come to let you in. Got all that?”

     “I do, Grandma,” Janie said, “but I don’t understand why I have to use my elbow to push each of those buttons.”

     “What,” said Grandma, “you’re coming empty-handed?”

     First, let’s get this out of the way: <rimshot />

     Now, let’s reflect for a moment: Just why do we give gifts to our loved ones and friends on Christmas, or on the Epiphany as our Eastern brethren prefer to do? I know some consider it an obligation which, if sloughed, could result in ill feeling or a loss of reputation. Perhaps it is, in some circles. But in the tradition of the Magi, it’s supposed to be an expression of love.

     Those three men would not have traveled a long, difficult route through the desert for a trivial reason. The prophecy they followed to find the Christ Child held Him to be the future King of Kings. “King” is a title often awarded to the Magi. (Cf. “We three kings of Orient are.”) While the tale of their journey omits mention of their exact role in Persian society, it emphasizes their high status and the great respect others had for their scholarship. To do what they did, they must have accepted the prophecy’s attribution of supreme status to the Child. That prophecy made Him “King and God and Sacrifice,” all in one.

     What would be a more fitting response to the discovery of such a Being than a pledge of fealty, worship…and love? Indeed, would any other response be possible?

     A gift offered sincerely is always given out of love.

     Too often we give gifts out of a sense of obligation. Such gifts express compulsion and resentment more than anything else. But the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh the Magi presented to the Christ Child stood outside any obligation known to that time. They were given out of love to One who is Love Himself, and who would ultimately accept the sacrifice of His mortal body to prove it.

     Happy Feast of the Epiphany, Gentle Readers. May God bless and keep you all.

1 comment

    • Dusty on January 9, 2023 at 1:57 AM

    Good call for encouragement.

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