The Secret of the Gifts

Do not worry.

This article appeared in the Minnesota Confermce newsletter for pastors' wives.

The story has been told for centuries now—how Gaspar, Melchoir, and Balthasar brought gifts to the newborn king. Ali, you say, everyone knows. They brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh. So it has been told.

But the story is incomplete. Listen to the rest. You shall learn the secret of the gifts.

Those who watched saw the first of the three visitors pause at the door: Gaspar, a wealthy man with a cloak of fine velvet, trimmed in flawless fur. They could not see that it was the Angel Gabriel, guarding the holy place, before whom Gaspar stopped.

"All who enter must bring a gift," Gabriel told Gaspar.

Struggling to lift a finely wrought box, Gaspar said, "I have brought bars of the finest gold."

"Your gift," Gabriel said, "must be something of the essence of yourself, something precious to your soul."

"Such have I brought;' Gaspar said.

But as he kneeled to lay his gold before the child, he stopped and stood erect. In his outstretched hand lay not gold, but a hammer. Its scarred and blackened head was larger than a man's fist; its handle, of sinewy wood, as long as a man's forearm. Gaspar stammered, dumbfounded.

The angel said softly, "What you hold in your hands is the hammer of your greed, used to pound wealth from those who labor so that you may live in luxury, to build a mansion for yourself while others dwell in hovels."

Gaspar bowed his head in shame and turned to leave. But Gabriel blocked the way: "No, you have not offered your gift."

"Give this?" Gaspar blurted in horror. "Not to a king!"

"This is why you came," Gabriel said. "You cannot take it back. It's too heavy. Leave it here or it will destroy you:'

"Why, the child cannot lift it," Gaspar protested.

"He is the only one who can," replied the angel.

Next to step to the door was Melchoir, the scholar with the length of his beard and furrows of his brow to bespeak the wisdom of age. He, too, paused before the door.

"What have you brought?" asked Gabriel.

"Frankincense, the fragrance of hidden lands and bygone days," Melchoir replied.

"Your gift," cautioned Gabriel, "must be something precious to your soul."

Melchoir stood breathless, kneeling reverently down to draw from beneath his robe a silver flask. But the vessel in his hand was not silver at all. It was common clay, tough, and stained, Aghast, he pulled the stopper from its mouth and sniffed the contents.

"This is vinegar!" Melchoir snarled.

"You have brought what you are made of," Gabriel said. "Bitterness. The soured wine of life turned grim with jealousy and hate; carried within too long, the memory of old hurts, hoarded resentments, and smoldering anger. You have sought knowledge but filled your life with poison."

Mel choir's shoulders dropped. Turning his face away, he fumbled to hide the earthen jar. Gabriel touched Melchoir's arm: "Wait, you must leave your gift."

Melchoir sighed with pain deep from within. "But this is vile stuff," he protested. "What if the child should touch it to his lips?"

"You must leave that worry to heaven," Gabriel replied. "There is use even for vinegar."

One more visitor strode forward. Balthasar, the leader of many legions and the scourge of walled cities. He grasped a brassbound box.

"I bring myrrh," he said, "the most precious booty of my boldest conquest. Many have fought and died for such as this, the essence of a most rare herb?'

"But is it the essence ofyourself?" Gabriel asked.

The soldier shuffled forward, bowing his head near the ground and releasing his grip on the handle of the box. But what he laybefore the baby's feet was his own spear.

"It cannot be!" he whispered hoarsely. "Some enemy has cast a spell."

"That is more true than you know," Gabriel said from behind. "A thousand enemies have cast their spell on you and turned your soul into a spear. Living only to conquer, you have been conquered. Each battle you win leads only to another?'

Balthasar grasped the weapon and turned to the door. "I cannot leave this."

"Are you sure?" Gabriel asked.

"But here?" the warrior whispered. "He is but a child. The spear could pierce his flesh."

"That fear you must leave to heaven," Gabriel replied.

What of the gifts, you ask—the hammer, vinegar, and spear. Another story tells how they were seen once more, years later, on a lonely hill outside Jerusalem. But do not worry. That is a burden heaven itself took care of as only heaven can.