THINK ABOUT IT: A candle-lighting ceremony for Epiphany Day

TEXT: Matthew 2:1-12

… and 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. (Matthew 2:9b-11)

This year, Epiphany Day—the Day of Revealing—falls upon the first Sunday of January. That doesn’t happen very often. To mark the feast, some will bake a Kings’ Cake.* Some will exchange gifts of jewellery or perfume. Some will—ceremoniously or otherwise—remove their Christmas tree.

Me? Today I offer you worship leaders a liturgy for Epiphany Day. It includes a candle-lighting ritual (you’ll need three candles, preferably coloured gold or yellow or white) and I have conceived it as a way to begin the service.

Here it is. I hope you find it useful …


Today we remember the Magi—the “Three Kings” of the familiar carol. In reality, they were not “kings”—although, to the poor Jewish peasants who beheld them, they must have looked the part. Also—if you read the gospel account carefully—their number is not specified. But however many of them there were, they brought to the Christ Child three gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

All of these were precious, and expensive—and worthy gifts for a newborn king.

Gold can represent our gifts of substance. [light first candle]

Livelihood easily usurps the place of life … unless life is dedicated to God, revealed in Christ. Think about it: how much of our anxiety is caused by clutching at things? And worrying about money? And fretting that, however much we have, it will never be enough? Financial resources can be used to promote the greater good … or they can be hoarded and held prisoner for use by a privileged few. Gold challenges us to open our hearts and hands.

Frankincense was burned as part of temple worship in the ancient world. [light second candle]

Because it is a fragrance, it can represent what someone has called “our inner treasure of thought and influence.” Think about it: the music that most enthralls us is essentially religious, and our greatest architecture is but prayer cast in stone. All of our thoughts and aspirations and achievements are worthy only when they are marked by reverence. Frankincense challenges us to worship—in spirit and in truth.

Myrrh is a resin extracted from a kind of small, thorny tree. [light third candle]

Throughout history, myrrh preparations have been used as perfume, as medicine … and in the science of embalming. Because of this latter application—and its association with funerary rituals—myrrh can represent our human sorrow and suffering. This bitter gift is—however strangely—often the most difficult thing for us to give to Christ. Think about it: we prefer to keep our troubles to ourselves, don’t we? And yet, in the Christ Child, we meet the very One who urges us to cast all our cares upon him. Myrrh challenges us to trust.

To lay before the Christ Child, each king brought his best. To worship him, let us bring our own.




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