Witness of the Magi

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Peter Koenig, panel from his Christmas-Epiphany triptych


“When the wise men from the East … set out… there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road (from Matthew 2:1-12, the Gospel for this day).”

Peter Koenig, in a painting I much admire in relation to this present season, not only presents the visit by and the adoration of the Magi, as well as their presentation of gifts. He also helps us discern how our celebration of Christmas and Epiphany anticipates our observance of Holy Week and Easter.

As we know from hymns and readings, the visitors from the East brought costly offerings, including gold, incense, and myrrh. This much is obvious from a first look at Koenig’s imagery. Much more subtle are additional features of his painting that should also attract our attention. Based on the imagery in Genesis 3, note the serpent under Mary’s foot. Note also how the Christ child is wrapped in what appears to be fabric prefiguring his eventual burial shrouds. Behind the figures in the painting, we see an anticipation of the empty tomb with its stone covering rolled away. And, in front it, we seen an image of the cross portrayed as also being the tree of life, bearing the vine from which will come the cup of salvation.

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (from The Book of Common Prayer)

May our Lord, who was and is, and is to come, bless us and our loved ones during this holy time.

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