Gold, Frank Innocence and Mirth?

The Venerable Dr Christopher Cunliffe, Archdeacon of Derby, reflects on Epiphany.

Epiphany is the poor relation of Christmas. This is a shame, not least because the carols and music of Epiphany are very special.

And the symbolism of the Epiphany, with the Three Kings or Wise Men bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, is equally memorable.

The Epiphany – or, to give it its other title, the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles - gives Christians the opportunity to consider a crucial question; how is Christ to be born in the world today?

 

Help in answering this question comes from an unexpected source.

The Canadian novelist Robertson Davies introduces a wonderful family in a series of books called The Cornish Trilogy.

Among them is Yerko. Yerko is something of a wide-boy.

He makes money effectively and not very honestly, and he can get you anything you want. But there’s much more to him than that.

He’s a master of Gypsy lore and, in his field, a very learned man. But there are some extraordinary gaps in his knowledge. He hasn’t ever seen a nativity scene before, or heard the Christmas story.

One day in late December, Yerko goes to New York and he comes back having seen both a crib and a nativity play.

He is so taken with the whole thing that he sets about making a crib of his own, and a splendid affair it is, too.

Yerko is a rich man and the crib is made entirely out of melted gold coins.

But Yerko has a problem, and it’s because he hasn’t heard the story quite right and he’s never seen it written down.

He knows about Baby Jesus, and he knows about a gift of Gold.  

But how, he asks, is he to represent the other gifts that were given to this special child? How can he represent what he heard as Frank Innocence and Mirth?

Well, God looks for the giving: he turns the gifts to good effect.

Whatever we have to give, if we give it with all our hearts, is good enough.

So Yerko’s gifts of Gold, Frank Innocence, and Mirth are splendid gifts to offer at the crib and to offer one another.

Gold stands for the best we have to give.

It stands for generosity: generosity in practical giving, so that others may thrive where presently they go without.

It stands as a reminder that we are all formed out of the same precious metal – all made in the Father’s image – and so it commits us to a determination to see God at work in every person we encounter.

Frank Innocence might stand for openness in our dealings with one another.

It stands for integrity, for honesty, for truth, for a resolve to speak up for what we think Jesus would have stood for, whatever we find ourselves facing. Frank Innocence will lead us ‘to give, and not to count the cost.’

And Mirth? Well, the best saints I know are not marked out by their expressions of anguish, pain, and suffering.

They are, most of the time, serene and deeply joyful people. They understand their calling to be to show God’s love for the world and they are convinced of God’s great love for them.

Even in times of great testing they know that they and all the world are held safe in God’s hands, and that he will never let them fall.

And so, Yerko, is right: Mirth is the third gift at the crib, because it reflects what we know about ourselves; that God would do – has done –anything for us and will allow nothing to part us from him.

And that, quite simply, makes us very glad.

The Diocese of Derby

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