I had an Epiphany!

January 06, 2016

I've always loved the Magi in the Christmas stories. They're mysterious, magical, powerful, wise .... all things I want to be. 

As a child I always wanted to play the role of a Magus (singular of Magi), but instead usually ended up as a shepherd. For some reason the Christmas plays our church performed centered more on the Luke account and therefore gave the shepherds bigger billing. The plays would give the Magi little or even no speaking roles, while the shepherds got lots of lines. A couple of years the plays even focused almost entirely on the shepherds. Since I was really good at memorizing lines, I almost always had the wordiest role. 

So most years I would don an old robe, grab a crooked staff, and go out there to yell and run around as angels and a star scared us (I later realized the star part doesn't actually fit with the shepherds but the plays even took those lines away from the Magi). I would also watch the kids dressed in cool outfits walk in, drop some gifts, and vanish. Oh, to be a Magi!

My son has adopted this same love of Magi (it must be genetic, like our wiseness). The story he most wants to hear in his nativity storybook is the one about the kings. He loves moving the Magi in his nativity set around; he'll put them off somewhere else in the room to show they're traveling and then later add them back to the nativity set (and then repeat the whole process). 


Christians around the world today celebrate Epiphany, which remembers the Magi and their unique role in the birth narrative of Jesus in the book of Matthew. Many Protestant churches remember the Magi on the Sunday just before January 6 instead of holding a special Epiphany service.

I had the opportunity to preach Sunday at Union Mound Baptist Church (in Elkland, Missouri), which I especially enjoyed since I got to preach about the Magi. I talked about who the Magi were, their religious-political power, and their gifts. 

Back in July, I picked up two of the three gifts of the Magi during a trip to Dubai. Although I visited the largest gold market in the world, I didn't buy anything that glitters. The frankincense and myrrh were cheaper - and are the gifts not as well known. I bought both in the spice souk (or market). The yellowish frankincense came from Oman and the reddish myrrh from Somalia.

One day after reading the story of the Magi to my son, I set a piece of each on tinfoil with an unscented candle burning underneath so we could understand a bit more about these unique gifts. I burned some of the frankincense first, which might have been a mistake since it smells better than myrrh and so would've been a better last scent. He now remembers those two gifts if you asked him what the Magi brought, though he usually doesn't remember the gold since he didn't get to experience it. 



On Sunday, I brought the frankincense and myrrh to Union Mound for the morning service. At the close of the sermon, the congregation sang "We Three Kings" as I set the spices up at opposite sides of the sanctuary. Then I encouraged everyone to head to the myrrh first so they could end with a better smell from the frankincense. The congregants quietly walked to the stations to smell the smoke and prayerfully reflect on the Magi,their gifts, and the One they traveled to worship.

Soon the whole sanctuary smelled in a unique blend of the aromas. Baptist services don't usually feature incense, but I found it quite holy. People told me afterward they would "remember the day we smelled myrrh and frankincense." They may forget the words I said, but I think God will still work through the aroma.

We need more worship services that meet people in multi-sensory ways. As we see on multiple occasions in the scriptures, God can speak through fire and smoke.

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