During Advent, To Reconcile All Things will feature a weekly reflection on preparing for the coming of our Lord, written by a young adult in the YCDM (Young Catholics of the Diocese of Des Moines) community. This is the third reflection, and the last until immediately after Christmas. Enjoy!
The story of the biblical magi who visited the infant Jesus is very prevalent during the season of Advent. Many nativity scenes include a set of three wise men, they’re depicted in paintings and other pieces of art, songs about them are heard on the radio, and there is even an animated movie all about their journey. Yet all of these sources portray them in slightly different ways. Countless biblical scholars have searched for answers to questions such as how many of these men were actually a part of the journey, when exactly their journey happened after the birth of Christ, and who exactly they were. Yet none of these questions have universally accepted answers.
The lack of these specific details, though, do not hinder us from getting something out of their story. The start of the second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel recounts the entire narrative of the magi’s journey to visit the child Jesus, present Him with gifts, and pay Him homage. While this story may not be the exact roots of the Christmas tradition of exchanging presents and going to visit our loved ones, it is often associated with the custom. We all enjoy showing our loved ones just how much they mean to us, but what about Christ? Do we show Him the same love and share with Him our treasures the way we do with our friends and family?
Every single one of us can and should work at loving God more and sharing with him our gifts. To better prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus this final full week of Advent and to help us show Him how much we love and need Him in our lives, let us take some time to reflect on just one single verse out of Matthew’s Gospel to see how it can help us share our treasures with Christ:
“On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” – Matthew 2:11
There is so much to unpack in this short verse that we can break it down into three parts and take a deep dive into each one. In order to lay things out in a better order let’s work through it backwards.
1) “… and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
Giving gifts to individuals of high importance is a tradition that goes back way before Jesus walked among us, but gift giving in ancient times was a little different than it is today. People could not just hop on Amazon and have something show up on their doorstep two days later, or swing by the store and pick something up on their way home from work. A little more effort had to be put into it. So when someone was giving gifts, there was a little more behind the action and was something left for times when people really wanted to show appreciation, love, and honor.
Historically when visiting a king, it was common to present to them gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Since the magi knew that they were going to pay homage to the King of the Jews, they brought with them these gifts that were fit for a king. The items presented to Jesus by the magi were not easy to come by. They had to go out of their way to acquire them, but that did not matter one bit to the magi, who desired to honor Jesus. Each of the items the magi brought with them held a specific meaning that was meant to show and remind a king of certain aspects of His life. As Christians, we can view each of these items as a symbol for an aspect of Jesus’ life and how we are to view Him in our lives. But these gifts can also show us how we are called to live our lives for Christ.
Gold (Precious Metal)
Gold can be a representation of values and virtue. We are all called to live holy and virtuous lives. When we are trying to learn how to do anything, we often look for an example to model ourselves after. When we are thinking about virtue or holiness, we must look towards Jesus as our example. There is no better example than Him, as he is truly the gold standard.
If the whole purpose of our lives is to reach perfect unity with Jesus in heaven, we have to spend time getting to know Him. The only way that we can do that is to have a prayer life with Him. The rising of the smoke when burning frankincense can be viewed as our prayers being lifted up to God. Jesus was constantly praying about everything that was happening when here on Earth. We must strive to build our prayer lives, deepen our relationship with Jesus, and bring Christ into our daily lives.
Myrrh (Anointing Oil)
The suffering and sacrifice that myrrh represents for Jesus also applies to us. We are all called to live a life of sacrificial love for others and for Christ. That does not mean that we have to always be in pain, sorrow, or suffering. What it does mean is that we have to be willing to make sacrifices and go out of our way to serve and love Christ and those around us. When we are in times of suffering, we should not just sit there and mope in our sorrow, pain, or sadness. During those times, we must try to understand why we are suffering and learn from what God is trying to teach us through our suffering, all while offering our pain up to the Lord.
2) “…Then they opened their treasures, …”
In the second portion of this Gospel passage, we are told that the magi opened up their treasures. Notice how they did not just give Jesus what they had on them, they had gone out of their way to acquire gifts to present to our Lord. It is often easiest for us to just give what is convenient to Christ, but that is not what He really wants from us. God desires us to give back to Him more than just what is on the surface and what is convenient for us. He wants us to be fully invested in Him and share with Him all that He has given us.
It may be easy to think that when we are talking about giving our gifts back to Christ that He is calling for us to give of our physical items or money. While that is a good thing to do, those are not our greatest treasures. God loved each and every one of us so much that He made us all unique–no two individuals have the same personalities, talents, skills, interests, or experiences. The unique combination of these allow us to offer Jesus something that no one else can. Our gifts are reflected in our work, in our hobbies and interests, and in the relationships that we have with others. Each of these places have their own opportunities where we can share our treasures with Jesus.
Our jobs are where many of us spend the majority of our lives, and we must not waste all of this time by not offering our work to Jesus. If we do, we will be missing out on many opportunities to draw closer to Christ. At times it can be challenging to see how our jobs are capable of giving back to Christ, especially if we do not work for the Church or other religious and charitable organizations. But every career and every job has a purpose. We should not just be doing something to make a living, we should all be working to provide something for the Kingdom.
Seeing how your work is having an impact on the world–or even more so, on the Kingdom of God–can be difficult. One way to look at it could be that you are working to support yourself or your family so you can do the things that you want to do. But if we are looking at our jobs in this manner, we probably need to do some more discerning on where Christ is calling us. God has blessed us all with a particular set of skills that make us perfect for whatever vocation He is calling us towards. When we understand this and keep Christ in our minds as we work, we will more clearly be able to see how what we are doing on a daily basis is lifting up the Kingdom and He will affirm that we are where He wants us to be.
As we labor, we should be mindful of the many gifts and blessings that we have received from God that enable us to do the work He has set out for us. We can do so by offering up our tasks in a spirit of penance for the atonement of our sins, being conscientious in our tasks so we may give back just as much as we have received, working with a spirit of joy and thankfulness, and asking for the intercession of St. Joseph, the patron of all working people. Through these, we can make all of our labors be all for Jesus.
Hobbies and Interests
Outside of work, we all fill our time with other things that interest us. For some, that may be participating in some sort of sports league such as volleyball or ultimate frisbee. For others, we may enjoy the challenge of rock climbing or skiing, or maybe we love to play board games or cuddle up on the couch with a nice book. Our hobbies provide a crucial aspect to our lives, and we shouldn’t feel that they are taking away from our relationship with Christ. As long as we are pursuing them for the glory of God, even if there is not an obvious redeeming value in them, they have a meaningful impact in God’s Kingdom.
Christ wants us to pursue our hobbies: none of us can be expected to work all of the time. Downtime is a necessity for us to live healthy lives. We need to do things that provide us with leisure to become refreshed and rejuvenated. By partaking and investing in our interests and expressing our enthusiasm for them, we can experience the goodness and joy that Jesus has shared with the world. As we experience this leisure and goodness, the quality of our lives increases and our souls are fed, allowing us to give even more glory to God.
Our hobbies also allow us the opportunity to build communities with people of similar interests. Within these interest circles, friendships can form, as perhaps you may meet people who have been active in the hobby for many years and may look towards them for wisdom or guidance. Alternatively, there are probably people just getting into the hobby that you could be a mentor to, or other people may be able to benefit from our talents by simply being able to spectate and enjoy something you create or a performance that you give. When we share our gifts and passions for our interests, we bring joy and excitement into the lives of our fellow brothers and sisters of Christ, and to the Kingdom of God.
From the very moment of our conception, we are with people. God created us to be with other people, which is exactly why we have Church. As Catholics, we are part of a universal community. Church is not just the place we go on Sunday mornings, it is the communal body of the individuals that make up the Body of Christ on earth. God has made us to be with others, and none of us do well without the people who surround us.
As we go through life, people will enter and leave our lives. Some of these people will be with you for many years through the thick and thin, while others may only be around for a few brief minutes. The relationships that form with these individuals open many doors to give our lives to Jesus simply by the fact that Christ dwells in all of us. When we build relationships with others, we should strive to see how Jesus is a part of them and working through them, no matter how difficult it may be or how much they try to keep Him out of their lives. If we can witness Christ in this way, it becomes easier for us to serve Him by serving the people who surround us.
When we are sharing ourselves with others we are sharing one of God’s deepest and greatest loves with them. Any interaction that we have with someone can have a deep and lasting impact on that person’s life, and could be God working through us to speak to them, or vice versa. Jesus did not always speak directly to the people whom He was trying to teach: often times, He used others, or even the crowds to speak to their hearts. We need others to help us learn about ourselves and help us recognize the many blessings that Christ has given us. Just taking the time to sit down and share our faith, struggles, and joys with a friend, or asking them about their lives can bring about fruits for them and ourselves to continue on the path with Christ and what He has planned for us all. We never know when or how God will use us or others to build the Kingdom.
3) “On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him…”
In the second section we looked a lot at how we can share our treasures with Christ through our daily lives, but that is not the only way we are called to serve and give back to our Lord. Of all the gifts, treasures, and blessings that God has given us, the single greatest one of all is our life itself and the time that He has given us here on Earth. Christ loved each and every one of us so much that He did not want the world without us. If we do not share our time with God, we cannot truly say that we are sharing our treasures with Him. This portion of the passage is telling us how we can make sure we share this love back with Christ.
“On coming to the house…”
The very first thing that the magi did in the passage we are looking at was go to the child Jesus. At the first chance they had, the magi sought out Christ and went on a journey to Him. To share our lives with Christ and, we have to do exactly what they did–intentionally seek Him out and go to Him.
This can be done in many different ways, some formal and some less so. We can always spend time with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist at Mass or Adoration, and Christ’s endless mercy and forgiveness can be sought out in Reconciliation. At retreats and Bible studies we can hear God’s words speaking to us. Clearing time in our lives to go to these different places and events will allow us to share our lives with Jesus more fully.
But we must also go to Jesus informally in our everyday moments. When we strive to think of Christ in all that we do, we are able to build our relationship with Him even more. We can look towards Him for guidance in all aspects of our lives: before we start work or any activity, we can ask Him to help us perform at our best. When we receive blessings throughout the day, we can take a few brief moments of prayer to thank God for His graces. Strengthening and building our daily prayer lives will always lead us towards Jesus.
“…they saw the child with his mother Mary…”
Without Mary, there is no Jesus. God did not just tell or command Mary that she was to give birth to His son. Being the perfect gentleman, God asked Mary to be His mother, for she was the only woman worthy to be the vessel for the Incarnation. Mary wanted nothing else in the world but to do God’s will. She chose to take on the responsibility of being the mother of Christ, and in doing so she became the first Tabernacle of the New Covenant by taking Jesus into her womb.
When the magi entered the place where they were to find Jesus, there would have been no doubt that they would have seen Mary, just like Matthew points out. Mary was and is the most loving mother and would not have wanted to spend any time away from her son. She was entrusted by God to care for and protect Him as he walked among us. After her Assumption, she was crowned the Queen of Heaven and Earth and given the power and the commission to crush the head of Satan. When we seek out and look towards Jesus, we will always see Mary’s motherly love and protection shining through Him.
While Jesus is who we should be striving to build a deeper relationship with and sharing our treasures with, we can always count on Mary to help guide us to Him. Like any mother would, Mary always wants to show people her Son and wants us to all get to know Him even more. When we go to Mary, we will always find Jesus because she is right at His side pointing directly towards Him. The stronger our relationship and trust with Mary is, the stronger our relationship with and trust with Jesus will be. As much as we share our treasures with Mary, we are also sharing those treasures with Her son.
“…and they bowed down and worshiped him…”
Even though Christ was just a small child at the time, the magi knelt down before Him and worshiped as soon as they were in His presence. Every time we are in the presence of Jesus, we should be worshiping, praising, and adoring Him with the entirety of our hearts. We have so many opportunities to be in the presence of Christ in our daily lives, we just have to be aware of them and remember to take advantage of them. Some of these opportunities can be quite obvious, while others take a little bit more insight and understanding of how Jesus is part of our world.
The many sacred places and items we have in our lives make it easier to see Christ’s presence in our lives and offer us abundant opportunities to honor and worship Him. For instance, when we enter a church we genuflect or bow down on our knees towards the Tabernacle, acknowledging Jesus’ presence. As we drive past a church, we can make the Sign of the Cross and say a quick prayer to help remind ourselves of His presence in the world. We can show respect to God’s Word by spending time in our Bibles, and also by taking good care of them by making sure we are not piling things on top of them or chucking them into the backseats of our car. We can place daily reminders of our faith and love for Christ by having crucifixes, rosaries, and religious paintings or statues on display, saying a short prayer whenever we view them.
But we can be reminded of Jesus in more aspects of our lives than just in these religious items, images, or places that we are surrounded with. God created everything and made everything good, which makes Him truly a part of everything we see, hear, or experience. We can praise God for all of the beauty He has created and given to us when we see that gorgeous sunset, those awe inspiring mountains, or the incredible complexity of a snowflake. As we drive past an accident on the road or hear an ambulance, firetruck, or police car drive by, we can thank Jesus for protecting us and keeping us safe while at the same time offering up a Hail Mary for those involved in the situation we are witnessing. When we are about to start something that is challenging, from running a marathon to getting out of bed in the morning, we can ask for guidance and strength to complete the task at hand. There is absolutely no better way to praise God than to invite Him into every aspect of our lives.
As we draw ever closer to the coming of Christ on Christmas morning, let us remember who we are preparing for. Always be giving God praise, honor, and thanks, sharing the many blessings we have been given in honor of Christ, and giving all that we have and all that we are to Jesus.
Sean Finn is a software developer at QCI in West Des Moines. He is active in many different youth, young adult, and music ministries around the diocese. He lives in Grimes and attends St. Francis of Assisi.