On our first married Christmas, Ron gave me a white porcelain set of the Holy Family with the intention of adding a piece each year. The following year I got an angel, and the third year a shepherd. But before we got to the Wise Men, the set was discontinued. As I set up my creche each year, I feel that it is incomplete. No Wise Men. So, as I bustle about my Christmas duties, I got into the habit of keeping an eye out for those tall, imposing figures to complete my Nativity. So far, they have eluded me.
But, as always when January 6 and the Feast of the Epiphany rolls around, I get to thinking about the Wise Men, not the porcelain ones but the ones who traveled across those ancient paths. What we know about them comes from the gospel of Matthew, and it is precious little. Despite our American tradition of putting the Wise Men at the scene of the manger, history tells us that they were not really there. Jesus was almost two by the time the Kings from the East found Him, not a Babe in the manger any longer but a toddler in a rented house. The journey of the Wise Men was not an easy one. They were not guided by maps of GPS. There were no four-star hotels along the way to ease the weariness of their travel. But they continued on, night after night, mile after mile, with only a Star and a promise to guide them.
The journey my family began on March 1 of 2000 has been long and arduous. In the years since Ron's car accident, there have been 26 major surgeries and twice as many hospitalizations. I often wished for Wise Men who could help me make the many decisions suddenly thrust upon me, who could bring comfort to my family and rest to my soul. I have yet to find them. What I have found, instead, has been Wise Women who have journeyed by my side, their characters emulating that of the original three gifts: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.
GOLD. Gold is a very practical gift and probably provided the money for the journey of the Holy Family to Egypt. The precious metal, Au on the periodic elements chart, has sustained its value over time. Banks may collapse and economies decline, but gold holds its own. In ancient times, gold was the traditional gift for a king. The Wise Men, in presenting a gold to young Jesus, recognized His kingship.
Symbolically, gold is that which lasts. It represents the highest achievement of society, and is the color associated with success and triumph. God has blessed me with many long and enduring friendships, the gold separated from the chaff. It is these friends, bless them all!--who have sat in the waiting rooms with me through long hours of extensive surgeries, who have prayed with me and sang hymns with me and never, ever failed to offer me a shoulder upon which to cry. They have answered their phones at all hours of the night or day, left their own families to come to the aid of mine, and brought with them hot casseroles and soup. Their value has never declined over the years, even if months go by without a face to face meeting.
FRANKINCENSE. This is a white resin, very fragrant when burned and often used in worship. Traditionally, the gift of frankincense to the Christ Child symbolized the willingness of His sacrifice, the "sweet savor" the Old Testament tells us is pleasing to God. Frankincense is known to herbalists as a a calming and restorative herb. In Biblical times, it was often used to treat depression.
When one spends a lot of time in hospitals, worrying about the outcomes of surgeries, and when one is suddenly expected to shoulder alone the responsibilities of two adults, one needs friends who are like frankincense, who bring with them the common sense and restoration needed in order to keep from going off the deep end. These friends have helped me to see that, while often not easy, my life is what God has given to me and He will give me the courage and the grace I need to live it. They have helped me to find joy among the losses, and to find my voice as a writer. These are the friends who will not let me give up on myself.
MYRRH. Myrrh is an Arabic word for "bitter" and has properties in the healing of wounds. The Chinese use it as an anti-inflammatory and the Egyptians perfected it as an ingredient in embalming. In fact, John 19:39 mentions myrrh as one of the spices used to prepare the body of Jesus for burial. While it might seem a strange gift to bring to a child, the myrrh represents the destiny of Christ to die.
And what of my friends who fall into the category of myrrh? Sometimes, I have needed to be very bluntly told the truth. I might bemoan my fate and the loads I carry, but they are what they are and no amount of griping about it will change that. My "myrrh" friends have sometimes needed to tell me--kindly--that I am pretty much stuck with it all. But that does not mean there cannot be joy in my life. They have pointed me towards the joy that comes from obedience to God.
The Wise Men have continued to elude me. Last Christmas, I gave up on ever finding them and treated myself to a new Nativity set, one complete with buildings and village folk. It stands on my mantel, with the Wise Men appropriately at a distance, still finding their way.
To the all the Wise Women who have shared in my journey, I want to thank each and very one of you for not being in the distance, but at my side.
You have helped me to continue to follow my own Star.