There is a thorny scrub tree that grows in the Middle East called the Commiphora. When a Commiphora tree is pierced with a gash that reaches all the way through the bark, the tree bleeds. It bleeds an aromatic resin that we call myrrh.
Frankincense is obtained in much the same way. A Boswellia tree is wounded, and it bleeds a fragrant resin that is referred to as ‘frankincense tears.’
Gold is brought forth from the broken earth, and with backbreaking labor. And thus the three gifts presented to the newborn babe in Bethlehem each came from a wound to a tree, or a gash in the earth. They came from a tear (to rhyme with bear). They came with tears (to rhyme with beers).
In bringing these particular gifts to the Christ Child – God incarnate – it is as if the wise ones were not merely offering a gift. They were also telling a story. They were saying, “This is what it is like to be human.” Being human glitters and glistens. And being human is painful. It is glorious. And there are tears and tears.
As with gold, frankincense, and myrrh – glimmering, aromatic, precious offerings – gifts can come forth from our wounds. A sweet aroma wafts in through the broken window. Shattered shards form a beautiful mosaic. Golden nuggets glisten within the underground seams of daily toil.
The shattered pieces of our lives can gleam because the transfiguring work of Christ lends beauty to even our failures and frailties. On the Feast of Epiphany, as I bring to Jesus my finest gifts, I want to also gather the shattered fragments of my life, because these, too, are gifts to bring. Like the gifts of old, the finest gifts are often born from tears and tears. Because that is what it is like to be human. And that is what it is like to have our brokenness transfigured in Christ, like a small, thorny tree, wounded, that bleeds a Balm of Gilead.
And so like the wise ones of old, I open my treasures and offer to the newborn babe my gifts of gold, of frankincense, of myrrh. And I offer the gift of myself, my humanity – with its shimmering glory, its tears and tears – offering it to the transfiguring work of Christ. I offer myself in the hope that in the thorny tree and rocky soil there will be a glimmer of gold, a fragrant aroma, the possibility of transfiguration because I see, like an epiphany, the presence of God in our midst, who sanctifies what it means to be human, who transfigures my tears and my tears.
In offering ourselves – fragments and all – our transfigured selves can become a continual offering, a pleasing fragrance, a Balm of Gilead in a thorny, broken world.