The Journey of the Magi

 Pulpit and Lectern Falls for Greenbank Parish Church, Edinburgh

   Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.

EPIPHANY (from the ancient Greek ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, “manifestation, striking appearance”) is an experience of sudden and striking realisation. Generally the term is used to describe breakthrough scientific, religious or philosophical discoveries. After Christmas comes the season of Epiphany, meaning the manifestation of Christ.

   And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.      (Isaiah 60:3)

On the night of Christ’s birth, a mysterious light appeared in the sky which became a luminous star that persisted in the western heavens (see Matthew 2:1,2). Impressed by its importance, the Wise Men, Magi or Kings turned once more to the sacred scrolls and tried to understand the meaning of the sacred writings. They determined to go in search of the Messiah. Like Abraham, at first they did not know where they were to go, but followed the guiding star, which led them on their way.

The Gospel of Matthew, the only one to mention the Kings, states that they came “from the east” to worship the Christ, “born King of the Jews.” Although the account does not tell how many they were, the three gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh led to a widespread assumption that they were three. In the East, the Magi traditionally number twelve. Their identification as kings in later Christian writings is probably linked to Psalm 72:11, “May all kings fall down before him”. St. Matthew recorded that the Magi brought three gifts, each also having a prophetic meaning.

Gold, the gift for a king; Frankincense, the gift for a priest; and Myrrh a burial ointment, a gift for one who would die. St. Irenaeus (d. 202) in his Adversus haereses offered the following interpretation for the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh respectively: King, God and Suffering Redeemer as well as virtue, prayer and suffering.

    

More importantly, the visit of the Kings fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament: Balaam prophesied about the coming Messiah marked by a star: “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17). Psalm 72 speaks of how the Gentiles will come to worship the Messiah: “The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts, the kings of Arabia and Sheba shall bring tribute. All kings shall pay Him homage, all nations shall serve Him” (Psalm 72:10-11). Isaiah also prophesied the gifts: “Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord” (Isaiah 60:6).

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In the design for the Pulpit Fall we see the guiding star at the top directing the three Kings, symbolised by three crowns: one gold, one silver and one copper, each encrusted with jewels. A shaft of light penetrates the hearts and minds of the wise men and comes to rest on the object of their journey symbolised by the Christogram IHS – Iesus Hominum Salvator. The colours are the colours of the east and are hot and dusty.

The Lectern Fall shows the three gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Each is made up of star constructions and is transparent to allow the contents to be seen. They surmount the words ‘LOVE — JOY — HOPE’. The colours are the colours of the contents of the containers.

Malcolm Lochhead
July 2012

The pulpit and lectern falls were donated by two members of the congregation, and dedicated on Sunday 6th January 2013.


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