Epiphany 2020: Be Wise When Gift-Giving

two wise men and mary

Today’s reflection is for the Epiphany of the Lord, January 5, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This post continues the theme of “The Holy Family.”

Today we celebrate three wise men who sacrificed greatly so that they might first see the newborn Christ, but also so that they might give him good gifts. As parents, we have a lot to learn about wise gift-giving! But first, we need to seek the Christ for ourselves and for our children.

Scholars have taught that the three “wise men” were probably wise because they were learned. They studied the stars, and some have even gone so far as to call them astronomers. I think that’s a bit of leap though. The wise men didn’t just study the stars for the sake of the stars, they believed that when a king was born that a new star appeared in the heavens. The stars pointed the way to God. They were learned about past kings, knew the Scriptures, and studied the world around them to discover the Christ. They must have had some good parents!

As a parent, it’s my job to point out the beauty of the world around us so that God may be glorified in it. Everything speaks of the glory of God. All of the created order was created by God and reflects God’s beauty, complexity, strength, justice, and love—though these truths are not always readily discernible at first glance. I once heard of a play dough activity where a person creates something (can be anything), and when it is complete, the creator’s (that the person making it) fingerprints can be seen all over it—because it’s clay. As it goes, the creation reflects the creator’s imagination, creativity, and fingerprints. The same is also true of works of art. The artist can be easily recognized by the art they create! And theologians have discovered the same about God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says it like this, “When he listens to the message of creation and to the voice of conscience, man can arrive at certainty about the existence of God, the cause and the end of everything. ‘The Church teaches that the one true God, our Creator and Lord, can be known with certainty from his works, by the natural light of human reason'” (#46-47). See also Romans 1:19-20, Acts 14:15,17; 17:27-28, and Wisdom 13:1-9 for Scriptural evidence that God can be known through creation.

I think sometimes as adults we either do not reflect enough about the ways that the created world speaks of the glory of God, or we don’t make it explicit to our children. Something as simple as the three-leaf clover (thank you St. Patrick) reveals the inner life of the Trinity. A window with two panes reveals the dual nature of Christ, and when combined with two other windows, reveals the Trinity. Holy Families are ones that point out the presence of God everywhere they look. We say God is always present, we should be more explicit in our pointing it out. And we also agree that we, as God’s creation as well, also create in a way that reflects God’s beauty and goodness and love.

So, how ’bout these gifts that the wise men brought to the baby Jesus today? While many have reflected upon these gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and what they mean, I recently heard of a great way to give these three gifts to our children (and to others) each year.

Gold was given to Jesus and his family to provide for them and their needs while they were in Egypt. The first gift can be given as a gift of value for the person. My nieces want gift cards, my sons want money, or something off their Christmas list. Give the gift of Gold. Frankincense was used in the temple to impart a fragrant offering to the Lord. As wise gift-givers, we can give a gift that increases and builds up our relationship with God. Bibles, rosaries, candles, saint statues or medallions, crosses, or religious gifts are all great ways to remind the receiver of the importance of keeping God at the center of our holy-days. Give the gift of frankincense. Finally, the wise man brought myrrh. Myrrh was used for purification of the body, and for preparation for burial. This is a great opportunity to get junior high boys deodorant, Axe, manly soaps, and other smell-goods! For the girls it’s bath balms, oils, perfume, hair care, and the like. This might also be a place for a massage for your bride or mom, or a pedicure or a manicure maybe. For your man, some shaving materials, some beard oil, fingernail clippers, or a beanie. This, incidentally, was typically where my mom scored well with underwear and socks! She never forgot the gift myrrh.

The wise men were wise because they were forever searching God’s created world for hints of his presence. But not only that, when they discovered the Lord, they brought him the good gifts of the earth. Holy families seek out opportunities to encounter God in nature, in Churches, in the Scriptures, and through the Sacraments of faith. Holy families also never show up empty handed—knowing that it is always more blessed to give than to receive. On this celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord, may you seek the Lord, encounter him in even the lowliest of places, and always be prepared to give good gifts to him through generosity towards others. Amen.

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.