THREE WISE MEN
Once upon a time, a very long time ago, there lived three wise men; and their names were Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar. Now in those days to be wise meant something different from what it means today. It meant being able to interpret the stars, and to interpret dreams. One night they saw a new star rising in the sky; and being able to interpret stars, they understood that someone very important had been born into the world. They decided that the next day they would set out to visit this important person; and then they went to bed.
During the night, Melchior had a dream in which it was revealed to him that the person who had just been born was destined to be a great king; so the next morning, before setting out, he acquired some gold as a present for this king. Gold, he thought, would be useful to a king. He could make his crown out of it, or else use it to pay his soldiers.
Meanwhile, Caspar had also had a dream in which it was revealed to him that the new-born king was none other than God himself. So the next morning Caspar put together a present of frankincense. Frankincense is simply top-quality incense, and incense is used to worship God.
Balthazar, too, had a dream, in which it was revealed to him that that this new-born infant would one day die a sacrificial death to atone for the sins of the whole world. So he prepared a gift of myrrh, which is used to embalm dead bodies. In this way the three wise men came to realise that Jesus was our King, our God, and that he would die for us; and they gave him presents appropriate to all three of these roles.
That was what the three wise men did. But now we must ask, what are we going to do? First of all, we must decide what Jesus is to us. To the wise men he was king, God, and sacrificial victim. But what is he to you and me? How have we experienced him in our lives? Saint John, for example, says that if anyone should sin, we have our advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ. Do we experience Jesus as our defence counsel, pleading for us in the court of heaven, asking his Father to be lenient with us, to let us off? Or again, Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd. Do we experience him as the one who leads us to green pastures, and drives away our foes with his rod and his staff? Jesus also calls himself the Light of the World. Is he the light in our darkness? Does the gloom of depression and despair lift when we turn to Jesus? A familiar hymn calls him our Maker, Defender, Redeemer and Friend. Which of those titles is most real to us?
We’re very restrained nowadays in the way we address Jesus. It wasn’t always so. There is a fourteenth-century prayer called ‘The wooing of our Lord.’ It begins, ‘Jesus, sweet Jesus, my lover, my darling, my lord, my saviour, my honey-drop, my balm. The memory of you is sweeter than honey in the mouth.’ We don’t talk like that today. But if we don’t feel comfortable in calling Jesus our lover, or our sweetheart, how do we like to think of him? Which of the titles of Jesus means most to you: Lord, saviour, shepherd, friend, advocate, or what?
There’s another question we’ve put on the back burner. What present are we going to give to Jesus? The wise men gave him gold, frankincense and myrrh. What shall we give him? When my children asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I told them, honestly enough, that nothing gives me so much pleasure at Christmas as having my family with me. Perhaps Jesus would say the same. So one very acceptable present we could give him is to be here, with him, in his house, at this feast he has ordained for us. Let’s come and be with him, at least every Sunday, and if possible, during the week as well. But whatever we choose to give him, let’s not pretend that we’re doing him a great favour. As another hymn says, ‘Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.’