The religious feast day of the Epiphany had its origins in the East as its name suggests. Epiphany is the Greek word for “manifestation”. The Church honors this day when Christ was manifested to the Wise Men who had followed the star from the East in their search for the Promised One. (Matthew 12, 1-12)
The Gospel does not tell us how many they were, but it says they presented three gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts were thought to have special significance, gold to signify the Child is a king, frankincense to signify he is divine, and myrrh to signify that he is mortal.
Further significance is given to the fact that these are the first visitors from outside the Jewish community. The shepherds’ visit to Jesus represented the revelation of the Promised One to the Jewish people. The arrival of the three Wise Men from the East represented the manifestation of Christ to the whole world.
The Gospel tells us that the visitors from the East were men. But some have speculated how different it would have been if they had been women.
First of all they would not have arrived late. Being women they would have asked for directions sooner, and got there before the birth, in time to help Mary. They would likely have sent Joseph out to collect firewood while they helped Mary with the delivery and the after-care of the Child.
They probably would have brought more practical gifts, like a casserole of hot food for the shivering young couple, soft warm clothes for the infant, and a sturdy family tent to protect them from the elements until the tourists left Bethlehem, and a suitable home was available.
In the 1970’s I had the responsibility to organize month-long refresher courses for missionary priests and Sisters. There were 20 to 30 participants on each course. I soon learned that the proportion of men to women on a course affected the nature of the course. If the men were in a majority, the course was stodgy, dull and predictable. If the majority were women, the course was colorful, creative and surprising.
It made me think that if women were given a greater say at the higher levels of discussion and decision-making in the Church, the Church could benefit from it. Maybe it is time to ask the Holy Spirit to breathe once more upon the Church, and to add food, clothes and shelter to the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.