Saturday, January 5, 2013

Birthday Gifts for the King

Reflections on the Readings
The Epiphany of the Lord
January 6, 2012 Year C
The Year of Faith 

Birthday Gifts for the King 

"Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?  For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him."  

It was not just any star.  

"We have seen his star and have come to worship him," the Magi said.

His star inspired their journey and filled their hearts with joy.  His star brought them excitement.  His star defined their pilgrimage.  His star ignited their heart with a desire to bow before him.    

His star, the star of Bethlehem, led them to the very place he dwelled with Mary and Joseph.  The message of the star, positioned as it was at its apex, was that they had come to the end of their way.  Finding Jesus, a little less than two at this time, and exhausted and exhilarated, they prostrated themselves before him, offering  themselves, their reverence, their lives - and gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh - treasures filled with meaning and appropriate for a King.

Gold makes us think of royalty and majesty.  Frankincense speaks of adoration and worship.  And myrrh reminds us of sacrifice.  Each of these gifts of the Magi, gentiles from the East, reflect the depth of the wonder of the Incarnation.  We confess in the Creed the meaning these gifts portend.  Namely: that 'For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.  For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried...'

To these first gentiles God gave the light of revelation in the heavens and in their hearts.  We place stars and lights and angels on our Christmas trees to remember that long ago the heavens declared the glory of God; the very glory and wonder and hope that the Magi discerned in the heavens.  Every Christmas season we embrace anew the real story of Christmas - the joy of the star of Bethlehem and the extraordinary meaning of the gifts of the Magi. 

When I was a little boy I would stand outside my house and try to count the stars.  I remember laying in the yard to get a better view and to take the crick out of my neck.  I thought looking straight up would help me see more and to see the stars better.  It still is exciting for me to look up and see the wonder of the cosmos.  One time, many years ago, we had a visitor from Atlanta to our home in southern Indiana.  I picked him up at the airport in Evansville.  It was a cold night.  When we got out of the car at my house my friend looked up into the clear, cloudless night time sky and asked, "What is that?"  I said, "Those are stars!"  Walking down city sidewalks engulfed with city lights wash out the night sky.  We start to forget the canopy of wonder looking down upon us.  

Sentimental feelings and holiday songs like city lights can also blur the true story of Christmas.  I hear folks say things like, "It's too warm.  It doesn't feel like Christmas."  And Bing Crosby reminds us he's dreaming of a White Christmas.  If you live in Hawaii or go to Florida during the Christmas season you will not have a White Christmas and may actually hit the beach or the golf course on Christmas Day.  But the real meaning of Christmas brings us back to reality.  And with true joy we hear it again and gasp with wonder and awe at the generous and sacrificial visit of the Magi - Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.    

The Magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh that first Christmas to Jesus.  In this Christmas season, is there a stocking for the Christ whose birth we celebrate.  One of my favorite movies this time of the year is the 1947 movie, The Bishop's Wife."  My absolute most favorite Christmas homily of all time is the one given in this movie at the very end.  Here is the Youtube link to watch that segment  And here is the transcript of that homily:

Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking.

Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child's cry, a blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven't forgotten that night down the centuries. We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sound of bells, and with gifts.

But especially with gifts. You give me a book, I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry can do with a new pipe. For we forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled, all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It's his birthday we're celebrating. Don't let us ever forget that.

Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most. And then, let each put in his share, loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.


Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at   His website is:     

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