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The gifts of the Magi, both given and received

A children’s book centers virtual Epiphany worship

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The Magi were front and center during the Presbyterian Center’s virtual chapel service Wednesday — and well they should be on Epiphany.

The Rev. Edwin González-Castillo, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s Associate for Disaster Response in Latin America, even dressed up as one of the traditional Three Kings, Gaspar, to help lead the service, attended by nearly 90 members of the PC(USA)’s national staff.

It was a children’s book by Barbara Brown Taylor, “Home by Another Way,” with gorgeous illustrations by Melanie Cataldo, that guided Epiphany worship. View a reading of the acclaimed book here.

During worship it fell to the Rev. Marissa Galván-Valle, Spanish-language editor for Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, to discuss the book during her homily.

The Rev. Marissa Galván-Valle preached during Wednesday’s virtual Chapel service. She’s shown here preaching at the Presbyterian Center in 2019. (Photo by Rich Copley)

In the book, each of the Magi has a bright star lodged in his right eye. “This seems familiar to us,” Galván-Valle said. “We think about Epiphany and we think about following the stars. This year, we could even see a Christmas star, two planets coming together.”

At the book’s conclusion, she noted, the Magi wake up after they’d worshiped Baby Jesus and find the bright star is no longer present. “They look everywhere for it. They even have Mary look for the star. But at the end, they conclude they don’t need the star anymore,” Galván-Valle said. “I have this feeling that by saying goodbye to Baby Jesus, a substitute has lodged in their hearts. They give thanks for all the gifts they have received from Baby Jesus and the family.”

But Mary is perplexed: What gift can a baby give to these visitors?

The answer, according to the book, is, among others, the scent, weight and skin of the baby. That made Galván-Valle recall meeting her nephew when he was a year old. Looking into his green eyes for the first time, “all I felt was a deep love I was really grateful for,” she said.

The second gift to the Magi is the home itself, and the love that lives there. That got Galván-Valle to thinking about the gratitude she felt during 2020 by sharing her home with her mother — cooking for her, sharing meals, listening to her “and being available to her is something I will cherish as our years together get shorter and shorter,” she said.

The third gift the Magi received “is a really great story,” she said.

“We all have stories to tell” as we have experienced the pandemic, she said. “Even if we didn’t travel, we all have stories — sad or boring, maybe, but great stories. They’re stories of survival, grief — maybe even nightmares — but stories of what happened.”

The Magi “had a great story to take with them,” she said. “They saw the star and were led to the King of kings and Lord of lords. Their eyes and hearts and brains were full of gratitude and love, and that great story will accompany them all of their lives.”

But without the star, how did the Magi find their way home?

“The gifts they received — that we receive — guided them home by another way,” Galván-Valle said, “and guides our journey home today.”

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