In most nativity plays, the three kings enter, stage left, a bit too early. They also feature somewhat prematurely on our Christmas cards. The wise men shouldn’t really show up until January. They’ve seen the star and they know a new king has been born. But they are foreigners form distant lands and, camels or no camels, they have something of a trek to Bethlehem. We mark their arrival on 6th January – the feast of the Epiphany.
The wise men bring gifts. Their gifts are the finest gold, frankincense and myrrh. Their gifts are more luxurious and more expensive than those offered by the shepherds. But the shepherds have given their best lambs. All of them, rich or poor, have given the best they have to the new born king lying in a grubby manger.
We give gifts at Christmas in imitation of the wise men and the shepherd. We give too in imitation of our most generous God, who held nothing back, but gave his own son to live among us and to die for us. This is how much he loves us – that he gave everything for us.
Those shepherds and wise men that first Christmas reflected the generosity of God in their gifts of the very best they had to offer. The challenge of the Epiphany is simple. What do we offer to God? Do we give him our very best – the first fruits of our time, energy, talents and money? Or do we give him what’s left over – a quick visit on a Sunday; nothing in terms of helping out at church or volunteering in society; the loose change from our pocket in the collection plate?
We sing the words of the familiar carol each Christmas. “In the bleak mid-winter” is up there amongst our favourite carols, the mournful and haunting tune echoing something of the beauty of Christina Rossetti’s evocative poem. But it’s also one of the most challenging.
“What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb. If I were a wise man I would do my part. Yet what I can, I give him - give my heart.” What might it mean for us to offer our hearts, ourselves, all that we are and all that we have, to God this new year?The Rt Revd Jan McFarlane
Bishop of Repton