Notes for Group Reflection on the Meaning of the Epiphany Gifts

Glorious and exciting story of the Epiphany visit of serious men on camels?
But who were they? Not kings and not three of them.

They were probably a priestly order (note that Herod asks his priests what these visitors are on about!). They certainly existed long before the birth of Christ and were called, in the plural “magos”

Dictionary definition: Magi = wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augers, soothsayers, sorcerers, oriental wise men

And were there some women?

This story is the stuff of fairy tales, which is probably why it has such appeal for us – but what is the meaning for us today?

This morning we have 8 wise people and we are going to explore the gifts given by the first wise men to see what they might mean for us today. What is God giving us in this story.

So, for each gift, some thoughts, a poem (not necessarily directly related to the ideas), a prayer and a candle.

THE FIRST GIFT – power from God


RICH MAN - Elizabeth Rooney

Rich man, rich man, who are you?
Do you seek the Christ Child too?
In your palace and your court,
life is busy, life is short.
Have you time to go away
to find a baby in the hay?
Can you get your camel through
the needle’s eye, as you must do?

Rich man, rich man, you’ve come far.
Where did you learn to trust a star
instead of turning to a king
to guide you in your wandering?
Rich man, how did you grow wise
in spite of all your kingly guise?
Who taught you to play your part,
to bring an educated heart
to the stable in the west
so you could kneel there and be blessed?


Christ was given the gift of gold: a symbol of wealth and glory;
the standard by which nations judge their prosperity and power.
Yet it is also the symbol of human greed and selfishness.
On this gift has been built injustice, oppression and destruction.
As we offer a candle of gold, we offer our prayer of hope
that human wealth and resources may be used
with fairness and with justice, to create a caring world
where the joy of every individual is most precious to all.

THE SECOND GIFT – knowledge of the divine


Epiphany – G.K. Chesterton

There is heard a hymn when the light is dim,
and never before or again,
when the nights are strong with a darkness long
and the dark is alive with rain.
Never we know but in sleet and in snow
the place where the great fires are,
that the midst of the earth is a raging mirth
and the heart of the earth a star.
And at night we wend to the ancient inn
where the Child in the frost is furled,
we follow the feet where all souls meet
at the inn at the end of the world.
The gods lie dead where the leaves lie red,
for the flame of the sun is flown,
the gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold,
and a Child comes forth, alone.


Christ was given the gift of frankincense:
a symbol of prayer and human aspiration;
the silent longing that makes people lift their eyes to heaven;
the inner power that draws us on from what we are to what we ought to be;
As we offer a candle of incense, we offer our prayer of hope
that people across the world will see the dignity God has given us
and, recognising the rights of all, be inspired to live together in love.

THE THIRD GIFT – suffering that makes sense


That Night - Anon

That night when in the Judean skies
the mystic star dispensed its light,
a blind man moved in his sleep –
and dreamed that he had sight.

That night when shepherds heard the song
of hosts angelic choiring near,
a deaf man stirred in slumber’s spell –
and dreamed that he could hear!

That night when in the cattle stall
slept Child and mother cheek by jowl,
a cripple turned his twisted limbs –
and dreamed that he was whole.

That night when o’er the newborn Babe
the tender Mary rose to lean,
a loathsome leper smiled in sleep –
and dreamed that he was clean.

That night when to the mother’s breast
the little King was held secure,
a harlot slept a happy sleep –
and dreamed that she was pure!

That night when in the manger lay
the Sanctified who came to save,
a man moved in the sleep of death –
and dreamed there was no grave.


Christ was given the gift of myrrh: a symbol of suffering.
Here is the tragedy of poverty, oppression and pain.
Here is the agony of the mother who cannot ease her child’s hunger;
the father with strong hands who has no work to do;
the family torn apart by debt; the country divided by war.
As we offer a candle of myrrh, we offer our prayer of hope
that people will enter into the suffering of others
and, in their sharing, find new purpose, power and peace.

THE FOURTH GIFT – Our willingness to work for him.


The Wise Men and the Star – U. A. Fanthorpe

The proper place for stars is in the sky
lighting the whole world, but negotiating only
with the highly qualified - master mariners, astro-physicists,
professionals like ourselves.

This one came unscheduled, nudged us roughly
out of routine, led us a wild-goose chase,
and perching here, above unspeakable rafters,
common as a starling on a washing line,
whistles to every callow Dick and Harry,
idling amazed around : OK, pals, I've done my bit.
Over to you, now, Earth.

A child is given

The Child is given only once,
not for the stable’s tinselled fuss,
but even to death upon a cross.
So easy then, to wash your hands,
or shut the door with other plans.
Without he stands,
and light he brings,
light sought by shepherds,
priests and kings
to pierce the darkness circling.
He waits outside,
victorious, yet still denied
room at our plastic manger-side.
It is not his need,
but ours that should bow the knee
and worship him in deed.
He waits, untroubled by our dark.
What should we give? A gift? A card?
Perhaps our heart?


Our own time has gifts to offer too:
the skills of technology and science;
the freedom of travel; the marvels of communication;
the swiftness of news that has made the world a single place.
The world is one world, able, if it will, to offer back to God
its power and its resources for the good of all.
With this candle we offer our prayer of hope for the world in the year to come,
that all people on earth may travel onwards together
into a greater light and love. Amen


Bless us, O Lord, and bless the time and seasons yet to come.
Teach us to number our days rightly,
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Fill this new year with your kindness,
that we may be glad and rejoice
all the days of our life.