A Reflection for Epiphany

Here is the little door, Lift up the latch! We need not wander more, But enter with our gifts …

This poem by G K Chesterton – or possibly his sister, Frances (and set deliciously to music by the unrivalled Herbert Howells) – goes on to explain the deeply mysterious significance of the three gifts of the Magi (of which there were undoubtedly more than three) in the most convincing way I’ve ever heard – much better than the sermons you’ve listened to about gifts for a King, a God and a Victim. It is the child who gives the gifts, terrible gifts, as soon as he touches their offerings. Definitely worth Googling.

But (again, I’m afraid) …

They were the wrong gifts.

The Magi from the East “opened their treasures and offered him …” They hadn’t brought gold, frankincense and myrrh on purpose. They’d brought whole chests full of gifts intended for … Herod.

They had assumed (why wouldn’t they?) that they would find this new-born king in Jerusalem, in Herod’s palace. And the treasure chests weren’t for the baby; they were to impress his dad (as they thought). Just like The Queen of Sheba ingratiating herself with Solomon. If you were expecting a blessing – or at least an auspicious audience – from someone special, you brought gifts. It was expected. Protocol dictated that the whole episode be conducted with suitable ceremony and pleasantries. Nothing spontaneous or unpredicted, please.

Ah, but! (And again. I tried “however” but it didn’t sound like me) …

The rummaging around in those chests when they arrived where the true child, born King of the Jews, actually was, was a spontaneous and impulsive act.

That’s what mattered. Despite their woeful track record.

They’d gone to the wrong place; talked to the (seriously) wrong person; misread the star; brought the wrong offerings; and unwittingly brought mortal danger upon the one they had come to pay homage to. The title, “Wise Men” hardly fits the bill. Bunch of dim-wits more like. You know – the kind of material from which Jesus would later choose his disciples.

It’s when they turned away from Jerusalem and all its finery that the star returned to guide them. And it’s when they saw the child, that they wanted to find the very best they had to offer – deep down in those saddle bags – and lay them before him. Not to impress or curry favour, but just as a token of how this encounter had transformed them. They suddenly recognised that these costliest treasures were really rather poor and awkward compared with this lowly dwelling filled with true riches. They had found what really mattered – and they’d found it a million miles away from where they’d expected to find it.

And it is Jesus himself that gives eternal and inexhaustible significance to the gifts – so that we can keep on preaching sermons about them – by his acceptance of them. So Frances (or Gilbert) Chesterton was right: it is the child who gives the gifts.

For what greater gift can we receive than to have our gifts – awkward, inappropriate and poor though they are – accepted by the one who says, “What you have to offer … it is precious to me.”



We pray that Christ may be seen in the life of the Church.


Lord Jesus, you have called us into the family

of those who are the children of God.

May our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ

be strengthened by your grace.

Jesus, Lord of the Church,

in your mercy hear us.


Lord Jesus, you have called us to be a temple

where the Holy Spirit can dwell.

Give us clean hands and pure hearts

so that our lives will reflect your holiness.

Jesus, Lord of the Church,

in your mercy hear us.


Lord Jesus, you have called us to be a light to the world,

so that those in darkness come to you.

May our lives shine as a witness

to the saving grace you have given for all.

Jesus, Lord of the Church,

in your mercy hear us.


Lord Jesus, you have called us to be members of your body,

so that when one suffers, all suffer together.

We ask for your comfort and healing power

to bring hope to those in distress… (you may wish to pray for those in need mentioned on the pewsheet)

Jesus, Lord of the Church,

in your mercy hear us.


Lord Jesus, you have called us to be the Bride,

where you, Lord, are the Bridegroom.

Prepare us for the wedding feast,

where we will be united with you for ever… (you may wish to remember those who have died, mentioned on the pewsheet)


Jesus, Lord of the Church,

in your mercy hear us.


Jesus, Lord of the Church,

you have called us into fellowship with all your saints.

We unite our prayers with theirs

and ask for grace to serve you with joy

where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for all eternity.



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