This year when I sat everybody down (I always insist on sitting on the floor next to the Christmas tree) I wanted to explain a few things about the Magi. First, I read the verses in Matthew that talk about them:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”I told them that we don't really know exactly where these "wise men" came from, but some think that they may have come from the region of Babylon, and perhaps they came because they were familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. I read them this:
(Matthew 2:1-2 ESV)
Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.This is from a prophecy given to Daniel in Babylon. The "weeks" are actually weeks of years, not days. The angel was telling Daniel exactly when the Messiah was going to be born! A man of wisdom in ancient Babylon would certainly be familiar with the writings of Daniel, who was one of the wisest advisers any Babylonian king had ever had. Maybe they were looking at their watches and wondering when it was going to happen!
(Daniel 9:25 ESV)
Then I read this:
I see him, but not now;These were words given to a Gentile prophet named Balaam that talk about a future human person, but compare him to a "scepter" (meaning, he will be a king) and also a "star". This was widely considered a prophecy of the Messiah in those times. Assuming that these learned Gentiles knew about Daniel's prophecies and also about this one by Balaam, and assuming they had done the math and realized that Daniel's timing had elapsed, when they saw a "star" in the sky, of course they were going to go where it led them!
I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab
and break down all the sons of Sheth.
(Numbers 24:17 ESV)
After explaining all of this, I told them that there are two things the Magi did that are what we want our Epiphany gifts to inspire us to.
- The Magi knew the Word of God. They didn't have all of it that we have now, but they knew the parts of it that they had. We want our family to know the Word.
- They searched for Jesus. They physically went looking for Him! We don't go anywhere physically now, of course, and Jesus has promised He is always with us. But we want our family to seek out ways to draw closer to Him.
First, my daughter opened her gift. Last year we gave her a storybook, and she and I read through all of the stories several times in the months after we gave it to her. After going through it a couple of times we went on to other storybooks, but my wife (who tucks the kids in at night) told me that our little girl still keeps the book by her bed, and every night before she goes to sleep she reads one of the Bible verses. We decided to get her a book called Little Miss Grace Promise Book which has several Bible verses on each page, so she would never run out! We also bought her a bookmark to keep her place (the book has a ribbon bookmark built in, but we loved the one we found). She was so excited! She even took it to show her grandma later that night.
Next it was my son's turn. This year he entered high school, and not only is he taking his studies very seriously, but he is taking his music very seriously. He plays trumpet, and he is among the best in the school band, even as a freshman. My wife and I are both musicians also, and we know that one of the worst enemies any musician has is his own self-doubt. We gave him a little token, roughly the size of a quarter, that he can carry around with him. It says "No Doubt" on it, and has a Scripture on the back to remind him to never doubt God, and never doubt himself. (I don't have a link for the token, but here's a keyring with the same design.)
Later, after we had all opened our gifts, my son said "Why is it that the best gifts are always so tiny?" It may sound like irony to someone who doesn't know him, but he was being very serious. That little token apparently meant a lot to him!
Next, I gave my wife her gift. Like many women, she loves roses, and I gave her this mug, which just inside the rim where you can hardly help but see it when you take a sip has a Scripture that I hope she reads hundreds of times this year.
Finally, for the first time, this year I received a gift too! My wife had bought me the hugest coffee cup I have ever owned. It's a 20-oz mug, and it has a Scripture on the back of it (where you see it when you pick it up to drink). Because of things I've mentioned to her in recent weeks, she knew this particular verse would be meaningful to me. (If you stay with me in the coming weeks you will get to find out some of what she was thinking of when she bought it.)
(Next to a "normal-sized" cup for scale)
Edit: Looking at this cup every day actually did inspire me to think more about the Word of God. See what I wound up learning months later here and here!
After everyone had received their gifts, we went over to my mom's house - Three Kings Day is also the start of the season leading up to Lent, and where we are from (Louisiana) there is a special kind of cake called "Kings Cake" that you can serve at parties this time of year. She had some ready for us, and we had something ready for her: we had gotten her a little insulated cup with a picture of the kids on it and a little note they had written her. (I didn't take a picture of it.) We had another little mini-party at her house, and that was our celebration!
By the way - I know I always post pictures of our Epiphany gifts here, but that's not done in order to brag. I describe our gifts and post pictures here hoping to inspire you, reader, to take some time to really think about the people in your life and what word from God you would like to speak into their lives. To do this right you really have to put some effort into it, and find something that is both meaningful and useful. If it's not useful, they won't have it out as part of their lives for the next year, and if it isn't meaningful, then it's just more clutter around the house. But if you approach Epiphany gift-giving with thoughtfulness and love, maybe you'll have someone who is still, after a year, reading her storybook every night before bed. Maybe your one little purchase will make a huge difference when they need it. Maybe you can start the new year off with something genuinely special!