05 January 2014

What gifts do you bring?

The Epiphany of the Lord
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Upon seeing the child with Mary his mother, the three magi prostrated themselves to pay him homage and – in the words of Matthew – “Then they opened their treasures.” Then they opened their treasures. These treasures were gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold for a king. Incense for a god. And myrrh for a corpse. Without really knowing what they are doing, the magi give to Jesus gifts that reveal him to be the Son of God, the Christ. And not only do they reveal his true nature, they also reveal his mission. Here's the epiphany, the revelation we celebrate this evening: the newly born Jewish king is king of the Jews and the Gentiles. He is born to rule both the oldest nation under God and the newest. He is born to rule in the hearts and minds of all men and women. Not just those under Abraham's covenant with God, but all those who would bring him gifts and pay him homage as Lord and Savior. The magi came from the east in search of a king. They find a child. They prostrate before him. Then they open their treasures. What treasures do you offer the new born king? Gold, frankincense, and myrrh reveal the Son of God and the Son of Man in one flesh, born to die for us. What do our gifts given to Christ say about who we believe him to be?

The magi believe that the star will lead them to the newly born Jewish king. King Herod believes the magi know their business and ask them to report back to him when they find this new king. It's difficult to imagine that the magi would travel hundred of miles to search for an infant if they did not truly believe that this infant is quite special. It's also difficult to believe that Herod would order the deaths of thousands of baby boys if he didn't believe that this infant posed a threat to his rule. Both Herod and the magi know that the child born under the Bethlehem star is a king. Yet, the magi bring him three gifts that reveal his true nature as the Christ, while Herod would gift him with a sword through his heart. The magi offer Christ the deference due a master. Herod offers a death due a thief. In the end, on the cross, both the magi and Herod are vindicated. Christ dies a king, but he dies like a criminal. The gifts given to Christ by the magi and Herod tell us who they believe him to be. What do your gifts given to Christ say about who you believe him to be?What treasures do we offer the new born king?

Now, when I say “treasures” I mean more than money. More than what you might put in the collection plate. Every gift we have to share is first a gift to us from God. Starting with our very existence and on to all of our talents and treasure, everything we have and are is a gift from God. When the magi offer the Christ Child their royal gifts, they are offering him their material best. Had they stuck around for thirty years or so they might have offered him their talents as well – the loyal service of their knowledge and wisdom. And why wouldn't they? They revealed the King of the Jews as the Savior of the whole world, including their world. Maybe we should back up a bit and find out what gifts we have to give. Not everyone has a nearly bottomless checking account. Nor we do need one to be generous. Not everyone is happily retired and free most of the day to volunteer. Not everyone can sing, write, organize. Some of us are better at comforting the sick and mourning. Some with children and the elderly. A few of us are good teachers; good with helping those in serious trouble; good with machines and tools. The gifts we have are given to us by God to use. For His glory not ours. When we use our gifts we reveal Christ to one another. The magi reveal him to be the King of all nations. Who is he?

He is our king and our savior and our Lord. So, what gifts do we offer Christ? Well, who do you believe he is? What do you believe he does for you? Is he a lucky charm or a friendly ghost? A wise teacher or an enlightened soul? An historical figure who you just like hearing about? Or is he who he says he is: the Son of God, the Messiah come to die for our sins and bring us into the holy family of his Father? Do our gifts to him serve as a confession of faith in him? This is all much more than just a reminder to do good deeds, or an admonition to be nice to one another. What we are talking about here is nothing less than how we decide to reveal Christ to the world. On the shoulders of the Church as a whole and each of her members is the burden of being Christ in the world. Not just saying Christ-like stuff. Not just doing Christian-type stuff at Mass. But actually going out there and showing the world who and what Christ is. When the people of the world look at us, at you, at me do they see who and what Christ is for them? Do they understand that he died for them so that they might live? Do they watch us and see us living lives of sacrificial love for one another and for them? If we are not revealing Christ to the world, then what are we doing? 
What I am doing? I don't know. Maybe I'm revealing that Christ is all about the show, all about the noise of morality. Maybe I'm revealing that Christ is all about the technicalities of canon law and liturgical rubrics. Maybe I'm revealing that Christ died on the cross so that I might live in a religious ghetto where no one bothers my delicate sensibilities. I don't think that this is what I am revealing. I hope not! I hope my gifts to Christ reveal him to be the source and summit of the Father's mercy and love; the fount from which all hope and surrender flow. I want my gifts to reveal a Christ who teaches the way back to God and the truth of our eternal lives. Like the magi, I want my gifts to be more than just my material best. I want them to be signs of my homage, my respect, my worship. I want them to show the world that he is who he says he is. But to do that, my gift must be my life given over in sacrificial love. That's what he wants from me, that's what he's ask for. Not gold or incense or myrrh or a bigger collection check or a week of good deeds or a wonderfully sung hymn. He wants your life. Given for another. In sacrificial love. That's the gift to him that reveals him to the world as the Christ. 
The magi sought and found a king, bringing him three royal gifts. King Herod sought but never found a threat to his throne. His gift? A bloodied sword. What gifts do you bring to give to Christ? What you bring to give him reveals who and what you believe him to be. Do not for a second believe that Christ needs our money or our time or our talents. He doesn't. He needs nothing from us. In fact, everything we have to give him came from him. It's the giving that matters. It's what the giving reveals about our trust in him, our hope in him, our love for him that matters. You are the best gift to give him b/c everything you have and everything you are was given to his Father on the cross. You already belong to him. So, leave here this evening and reveal Christ to your world. How? By being Christ for those who seek him out. Be their epiphany, their revelation of God's mercy and love.

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  1. Nice - I liked what you said. Thanks.

    1. Thanks, Shelly. This was the fourth try. Seriously, there are three "first drafts" in my homilies folder. Just couldn't get going.