This weekend, many churches will be celebrating Epiphany, re-telling the journey of the Magi to pay tribute to the infant Jesus. They opened their portable storehouse and gave treasures of gold and frankincense and myrrh, and then returned to their own country by a different route to that by which they came.
The treasure chest, or portable storehouse, symbolises the heart, our capacity to make choices. As an adult, Jesus often described the heart in this way.
Gold symbolises purchasing power, our ability to acquire what we value. It includes privilege, the associations and investments-in-us that multiply our opportunities. It includes givens, such as natural abilities we might invest in, and more liquid currency such as the extent to which we might take risks or exercise caution. We are all traders, all give something of our gold to those we believe it will be advantageous to align ourselves with, the thing we worship whether that be the stock market or the Son of God.
Incense symbolises prayer, a recognition that, regardless of how much privilege we may enjoy, life involves chance, and forces — some benevolent, others malign — outside of and beyond our control. There is more to life than I can handle alone. We seek a covenant partner to stand alongside through thick and thin, and who will come to our aid; and we get to choose who that partner will be.
Myrrh symbolises romantic, erotic love. It was also used to embalm the dead. The desire to know love, to love and be loved in return, to give passionately of ourselves to another person or to a great consuming cause, is almost universal. Sooner or later, the experience of loss, of death and walking the valley of the shadow of death, is truly universal. Certainly, you cannot know the first without the second, for they go hand-in-hand.
Gold, frankincense and myrrh represent the treasures that are locked away, kept close together and under guard, in all of our hearts. We all make choices in relation to all three. And Jesus is the key that unlocks the storehouse, that enables us to share what we have received, and so find it to be true treasure: to find that we are enough, for others as well as for ourselves. For God, however inadequate we might feel.
This Epiphany, may your heart be unlocked.