Epiphany 6.1.13 Matthew 2.1-12

30 12 2012

Wise Gifts

The British view of Christmas is dominated by Luke’s version. It would be fun to begin to work out what aspects of the story we miss by including so little of what Matthew offers. This passage, however, always gets in. It is the eighth lesson in the cycle of nine used at King’s College, Cambridge. When I was Chaplain there, someone wrote in suggesting we were wrong to stop at the end of verse 11 – the traditional version. We felt that they were right, and if you listen carefully you will hear that it now ends with verse 12. As does this gospel reading for the Feast of the Epiphany.

Matthew 12.1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.


To help give shape to the reflection here are three types of question: head questions, heart questions and hand questions. They are about our intellectual response, our emotional response and our practical or behavioural response. I hope that you will want to work at all three levels.

‘Head Questions’

  1. What does Epiphany mean? How can you make people interested as you explain that?
  2. Do you agree that it is better to end with verse 12 than verse 11? Why?
  3. What is the meaning of the gifts?  How can you go beyond the lines of ‘We Three Kings?’ (see below for a PS)

‘Heart Questions’

  1. Why was Herod frightened? Can you build a sermon on the contrasts between wisdom and fear?
  2. The word ‘homage’ is used three times in this brief passage. How does it make you feel on each occasion?
  3. Sadly you know what happens next in this story: the slaughter of the innocents. What shadow does that cast over the treasure?

‘Hand Questions’

  1. Is there journey you need to take – following some sign that is calling you forward?
  2. How might your worship become more devout; your ‘homage’ more sincere and profound?
  3. What is your treasure?

P.S. In my book Healing Agony: Re-imagining Forgiveness I have a chapter called ‘The Gifts of the Wise’. In it I describe the gifts needed by those who find themselves helping someone who has suffered a shattering hurt to move forward in the direction of forgiveness using the imagery of gold, frankincense and myrrh.


These questions are intended to challenge you to engage more closely with the passage and to hear and feel what it has to say to you.  That’s more than a five-minute task. And so is the follow-up, working out what you might want to say to others as a result of engaging with the passage with head, heart and hands.  Take your time.



One response

2 01 2013

thank you, this was very useful 🙂

Please feel free to add your own comment or question.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: