The Epiphany, ecology and the fourth verse

The opening words of We Three Kings are fond, familiar ones. They recount the star, the gold, the frankincense ... but then comes a dark fourth verse, one that few of us sing, or few liturgies allow us to ...

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light

There, in the middle of what we often see as a charming Christmas carol, is the Cross of Jesus Christ, illuminated even at the Nativity by that cosmic sign from above. Yes, the Cross that, as the center of world and Salvation history, changed everything for the better--the Cross we should keep close to, so that we may find our Savior on our own pilgrim journeys. Instead, we very often flee from it. After all, the Cross of Christ reminds us of that command to pick up our own cross(es) when following Him. And anyway, who wants to sing about it, especially at Christmas, or the Epiphany, that Feast of the coming of the Three Wise Men?

And yet, in scripture and in the hymn derived from it, one of those Wise Men brings myrrh as a gift to that babe in swaddling clothes--the resin used especially by the Egyptians for embalming the dead. Why?

For the ecologist, myrrh's reference to death calls to mind the cycle of life and death that fuels Earth's ecosystem. It is a cycle we can not ignore, nor can we flee. New life requires the death of existing life. The food chain, and all that. And so what we learn from science is that all physical life forms, like you and me, are temporary.

But humans shouldn't be looked at as a food source for other life forms. There's more to the story of this babe in a manger.

Theologians remind us that the gift of myrrh shows us that even these pagan travelers knew that the Messiah was born not to just to live and teach, but especially to die. He was meant to experience the worst effect of sin--death itself--so to overcome it. For Him and for us. Or, using those scientific words above, new life requires the death of existing life.

And so we, as people of faith, who proclaim that Christ is Risen, look beyond what science alone can tell us. After all, ecology can explain only so much about life. The Gospels teach us the rest. Which brings us to the last verse of We Three Kings, the one that reminds us what Christmas is all about--a lesson taught to us by a stranger from a strange land. After all, it is a lesson that resounds throughout all lands for all people.
Glorious now behold Him arise,
King and God and sacrifice,
Heaven sings, "Hallelujah!"
Hallejujah!" Earth replies.

If you like Catholic Ecology,
you’ll love…

A Printer's Choice

The sci-fi novel with a Catholic twist.

A Printer's Choice

Learn more

About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.