This week we are working through the first week of Epiphany on Sacred Margins. If you haven’t already, check out Allen’s post from Monday giving a introduction to the story of the Magi and the three gifts. Also, you can click here to read an overview of the season of Epiphany on the liturgical calendar.
One of the things I love about God is the mystery that envelops him. It seems like every time we have him (or think we have him) figured out, he slips through our fingers like sand. We can’t catch him, define him, or contain him. As Moses inquires about the name of God, he simply replies “I AM”.
There is something so frustratingly wonderful about that statement.
The story of the Magi continues the mysterious patterns of our presenting God in this story. He chooses to do nothing we expect but seems to use things we would typically despise to announce his son’s arrival. Yes, there was a chorus of angels who sang, but it was to proclaim the news to the poor shepherd, not to the powerful king. Then he draws stargazing astrologers from Gentile land to bring him gifts that not only honor him, but announce what he is to become.
Yesterday, Allen spoke about the gift of God proclaiming him as king. The second gift is one that I always thought sounded funny when I was a kid: frankincense. It sounded a lot like “Frankenstein” when I was a kid, so I guess that was funny for some reason.
Yet, the gift wasn’t really funny. It told us something about the Christ that would have been mysterious and unexpected as well.
He was to be the new High Priest.
You see, Frankincense is exactly what the second half of the name indicates: incense. Why would this be important? Well, when you search back through the priestly duties of the temple, incense played a large part in the sacrificial system. For the priest to approach God in the Holy of Holies, he had to take coals from a certain fire, sprinkle incense “pleasing to the Lord” and create a smoke screen of sorts. This screen created a visual barrier between the cherubim on the ark and the priest so that the unholy could be protected from the holy.
This simple gift gave a glimpse of what was to come. Just as the priest burns the incense in the temple, so would Jesus perform his priestly duties on our behalf. He would mediate the new covenant on behalf of his people by the cost of his blood.
I’m amazed that in this simple story of the Magi we find an incredible clue as to who this Christ would become. What this tells me is God likes to hint at what he plans to do, if we will just pay attention. If he wanted to tell us something about the nature of his son through a simple gift from astrologers we would likely not even let into our churches, what else could we be missing from him? How else have we failed to hear him?
Today, look for God in the places you would not normally look. Look for clues. Listen well. I think he is eager to let us in on some of his plans if we will slow down and listen.
How have you seen God in places you didn’t expect to see him? What are your thoughts on Christ being the High Priest?