Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh


Epiphany is not only a reminder of a historical event but also an encouragement to each of us to recall the presence of the divine in our midst. We can understand the latter as the continued presence of the cosmic Christ among us, whether in the face of others whom we meet each day, in the beauty of the natural world, or in the presence of the divine within.


Today we celebrate Epiphany, when the magi come to pay homage to the Christ Child. Epiphany is not only a reminder of a historical event but also an encouragement to each of us to recall the presence of the divine in our midst. We can understand the latter as the continued presence of the cosmic Christ among us, whether in the face of others whom we meet each day, in the beauty of the natural world, or in the presence of the divine within. Last year on my eight day silent retreat, I experienced profoundly the sense of Christ working within all, like water flowing into all that is: into my own soul, within the eyes of the other retreatants, or in the nearby ocean and rock.  As if we are playing a game of hide and seek, Christ is present in all, but we also have to seek him out as the magi did. Somehow our seeking and God’s gracious reaching out to us meet, and then: Epiphany.

The Magi offer gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and each has a symbolic value. Gold befits an earthly king; frankincense marks the presence of the divine (like incense burned in the temple); and myrrh is a symbol of death (since it was used in embalming oil). Matthew’s gospel (from which we get this account of the wise magi) captures the plurality of Jesus’ identity: Jesus is human and will live a human life whose “kingship” will not be political but a kingship of ministering to the concrete needs of others. Jesus is divine and shows us that the “temple” where incense is to be brought is the entire world and not only one location. Jesus will suffer and die, and mysteriously God’s saving action takes place in our own experiences of suffering and death.

This Epiphany, we can each consider where we seek and find Christ, in what is ordinarily human, what is sublime, or even in what is dying and passing away.