S A STUDENT in grade school & high school, I always “brown-bagged” my lunch. Every day of first through twelfth grades, I ate a peanut butter & jelly sandwich and some type of granola bar. In grade school, I would have a Capri Sun to drink, and in high school I switched to bottled water. So the contents of my brown bag were usually exactly the same. On a few select days, though, my mom would sneak something extra into my lunch. One of those days was always my birthday, and another one was January 6th, the Epiphany—what she would always call “Little Christmas.” Each year, I would discover a little wrapped present in my lunch bag on January 6th. That was my mom’s way of celebrating the Epiphany with us.
Why do people give gifts? What is the point of gift-giving? It’s certainly about more than just transferring items from one person to another. Most people give gifts to people they care about, which tells us something about the meaning of gift giving. We give gifts to recognize the value—the intrinsic worth—of the person to whom we’re giving the gift. So, when we give someone a gift, we are saying that we value that person.
The feast of the Epiphany recalls the day on which the three kings brought gifts to the newborn Baby Jesus. They brought gifts because they valued, respected, & appreciated this Baby. Each of their gifts represents something about Whom they believed this Child to be.
The first king brought gold. Gold was a precious metal, reserved only for use in the palace and jewelry of a king. So, by bringing Jesus gold, the first wise man professed his faith that Jesus was his true King.
The second king brought frankincense. There was only one use for frankincense in the culture of the Jews. It was burned around-the-clock in the Temple at the “Altar of Incense.” So, just as we still use incense today, even then it was something reserved for the worship of God. By bringing Jesus frankincense, the second wise man professed his faith that Jesus was his God.
The third king brought myrrh. What is myrrh? Myrrh is a sort of perfume, and it had one major purpose in ancient cultures. It was the perfume used to anoint the body of someone who died. By bringing Jesus myrrh, the third wise man professed his faith that Jesus was his Savior. As Bishop Sheen put it, most people come into this world to live, whereas Jesus was born to die.
The three wise men brought gold, frankincense, & myrrh because they knew that He was a King, that He was God, and that He would one day die to set all men free. What gift are we bringing to Jesus right now? Perhaps we value the mercy God has shown us, so we’ll give Him the gift this week of being merciful to someone who bothers us. Maybe we value God’s peace, so we’ll give Him the gift of working toward peace in our family. When we assist at Mass, we offer to God bread and wine, which become His Sacred Body & Precious Blood.
It’s easy to give someone socks or a video game or a gift card. But, can we go so far as to give God our very hearts, entrusting everything to Him? It is hard, but it is necessary. After all, at Christmas, Jesus gave us the gift of Himself. Can we return the favor?
Giving a gift to someone is a sign that we care about the other person—that we value them. Those little wrapped gifts my mom would throw in my lunch bag might have been little, but they meant an awful lot. How pleased God would be with even the small gift of our entire lives!