A showing

A legend is a story invented to describe something true though we do not know what really happened. There is a legend embedded in the opening of the Christian scriptures about three wise men coming from the east to Bethlehem, drawn by a star. They are led to a manger in a stable and shown the ‘light of the world’ long foretold by the prophets. Gentiles came to know Jesus early on.


It is a good story, full of drama and T.S.Eliot wrote a poem about it which begins:

‘A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp.

The very dead of winter.’


The wise men made their journey and we make ours and often it is during ‘the worst time of the year’. We take wrong turns and have to retrace our steps and start afresh.


We are also told the wise people brought gifts of gold, incense and myrrh. These were precious commodities in the ancient world and we can draw out our own meaning. When Isaiah sketched the origins of this story, he mentioned gold and incense but left out myrrh. If gold is a symbol of wealth, beauty, goodness and love, incense represents homage, prayer and mystery. But myrrh? The dictionary describes it as ‘gum resin used in perfume’ and it was used, I suppose, to offset the smell of decay which corpses soon acquire. Rather inappropriate for a new born child.


The Church quickly associated it with the death of Jesus and the spices the women brought to anoint his body (Mark 16:1). Death is a sad thing but the women who came with the myrrh found an empty tomb. ‘Death was swallowed up in victory’ (1 Cor 15:54). At first, they were ‘scared out of their wits’ but they came to be astounded and rejoiced.

In the story of the Epiphany we are invited to we see through our legends, our make-up, our appearances and outward show to the reality that underlies all? God draws us to himself and we set out on the journey offering our gifts, gifts that represent the best we can bring but they also include our suffering and death.  Eliot ends his poem: ‘We returned to our places … but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, with an alien people clutching their gods…’

Epiphany, 7 Jan 2023     Is 60:1-6      Eph 3:2-6    Matt 2:1-12


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