This week I am thinking about the Magi, because these are the days of Epiphany, a celebration that is almost 2000 years old, running back into the 2nd century. Before we ever imagined a Christmas, the Church remembered the Magi bringing their gifts to Bethlehem— and in that moment the manifestation of the Incarnation for the whole world.
Not a parochial faith anymore, no longer just for the Jews, but a revelation for everyone everywhere. That is Epiphany, and this week people from every corner of the earth whose deepest commitments are born of the gospel of the kingdom will enter into a time of remembering the Three Kings, the Magi, reflecting on what their gifts meant and still mean.
One story that I love to read, again and again, is O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi. Most know the story, at least in outline. A young husband and a young wife, doing their best to live on love, realize that as Christmas comes, they have no money for gifts— and they desperately want to give a gift to each other. They decide, quite independently, to give their most valuable possessions, he to her, she to him. It is as tender as it sounds.
The final words are these:
“The magi, as you know, were wise men— wonderfully wise men —who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones…. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”
Yes, always and everywhere, they are the magi.