The Magi and the Gift of Holy Discontent
Fr. Geoffrey Plant of Sydney, Australia has prepared a multimedia homily for the feast of the Epiphany. In his homily, Fr. Plant presents the main points of the feast.
The term “epiphany” comes from the Greek meaning to “shine forth”. We tend to assume that there were three kings because there were three gifts named: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Fr. Plant notes that they were not called kings but “magi” in Greek, with stands for wise men or sages.
The gifts are symbolic of the nature and meaning of Jesus. Gold is a symbol of royalty, frankincense is a sign of the divine, and myrrh is for burial, indicating that Jesus will triumph through suffering and death.
Fr. Plant suggests the wise men also brought the gift of Holy Discontent. Examples of holy discontent may be seen in the character of Popeye. An example of unholy indifference is seen in the the character of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. Fr. Plant sees the magi as showing a holy discontent: a willingness to search, to be changed, and not to feel comfortable again. He compares them to Herod’s wise men who despite being so close to Bethlehem fail to see the signs in the heavens though others have seen them from afar. Quoting W. H. Auden, Fr. Plant compares the hardness of heart of Herod’s wise men to our own post-modern era:
We would rather be ruined than changed
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die
W.H. Auden, The Age of Anxiety
This gift of Holy Discontent — the gift of prophecy and activism — is what the wise men bring to the Christ child and to us according to Fr. Plant. It is the divine call to the kingdom through suffering, death, and resurrection.