There is so much to the Epiphany: journeying in faith and hope, seeking and finding Christ in unexpected places, a guiding light, Jesus revealed to all nations... and gifts. At Mass on Sunday I found myself thinking about the gifts brought by the Magi, whose symbolism is described in the carol We Three Kings: gold for a king, frankincense for a God, myrrh for a crucified saviour. And the thought then struck me very suddenly and powerfully: we talk of bringing our gifts, and of what the Magi gave, but what if gold, frankincense and myrrh are also God's great and generous gifts to us...?
Gold is God's wealth, his precious treasure; riches in abundance, lavished on us and poured out at our feet. Unconditional love, tender mercy, grace, presence and so much more - and God wants nothing more than to share all this richness with us.
Frankincense is God's divine life, which he also longs to share with us: He became what we are, that we might become what he is (Athanasius). God's deepest desire for each one of us is for total union; the mutual indwelling Jesus calls us to in John's Gospel - make your home in me, as I make my home in you. That desire is, in itself, one of God's greatest gifts to us.
And myrrh, that foreshadowing of death, is, of course, Jesus' gift of his whole life, poured out for us on the Cross. There is, of course, a bitterness to myrrh, which is the invitation to carry our own cross in union with him; but within and because of all this is the gift of eternal life, through Jesus' redemptive death and resurrection.
So: an outpouring of God's riches, a share in God's divinity, and eternal life through Jesus' great act of love. All part of God's open-hearted bounty, all so freely given, all so freely and gratefully received... Yes, from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace (John 1.16)... And so I ask myself: what are the gold, frankincense and myrrh I can offer in return...?