‘On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.‘
– Matthew 2
When my wife and I brought our first son home, we received more gifts than we could have possibly used: three baby swing sets, bottles of every kind and color, clothes and enough toys for a classroom.
But frankincense, gold and myrrh?
What kind of gifts are those for a baby?
Frankincense was something you used in worship, in the temple. Myrrh was what you used to anoint a dead body for burial.
I wonder what Mary made of the strangers who came to greet her new baby? I wonder what she thought when they bowed down before someone wearing diapers? I wonder where her mind went when they presented him with those auspicious gifts?
And every year I wonder how the scene must have looked through the magi’s eyes. Their gifts, their audience with the King in Jerusalem, their ability to take a long journey to Israel all suggest they were men of wealth, power and sophistication.
Surely Bethlehem was not the sort of royal birthplace they would have expected.
Mary and Joseph and whatever humble home they’d made wouldn’t have looked anything like a throne.
The holy day when the magi meet Jesus is known as Epiphany and it usually centers on how Christ’s coming opens salvation to the gentile world as well as the Jewish world.
Read more simply and less theologically, I think the magi remind us how, in scripture, strangers almost always represent an unexpected blessing from God.
Indeed, at times strangers can be angels in disguise and, always, strangers are those who cause us to reorient our self-images, our assumptions about the other and the things we value.