The story of the coming of the Magi grew in the telling. By the 6th century they had acquired names: Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. By medieval times they were considered to be kings. Whoever they were, we do know from Matthew that they brought three gifts to Jesus.

What about their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh? While we cannot know for sure what was in the minds of first century Magi, one Victorian scholar has offered a possible explanation as to the significance of their gifts. He was the Rev John Henry Hopkins, an American Episcopalian minister, who in 1857 wrote his much-loved Christmas carol: ‘We Three Kings of Orient Are’.

Gold, said John Henry Hopkins, was a gift that would have been given to a king. Frankincense had traditionally been brought by priests as their worshipped God in the Temple. Myrrh was a spice that the ancients used in preparing bodies for burial.

If that is true, then you could say that the Wise Men, in choosing their gifts for this infant, honoured Jesus with gold because he was King of the Jews, with frankincense because he was to be worshipped as divine; and with myrrh, because he would also become a sacrifice and die for his people.

The Wise Men were the very first gentiles ever to worship Jesus. What faith they had! They travelled for months over difficult terrain, they never saw any evidence of Jesus’ kingship, his divinity or his sacrificial death. They worshipped him through faith in God’s promises about him. Isaiah foresaw this response to Jesus: ‘Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.’ The Magi’s eyes of faith saw clearly and far into the future.

Compare that with the High Priest and religious leaders whom the Wise Men saw in Jerusalem when they first arrived. These head priests knew all about the prophecies of their own coming Messiah, but NOT ONE Jewish religious leader travelled to look for him in Bethlehem. And it is only six miles down the road!

I’ve just got back from taking at a rough guess 60 items of food to the Food Bank reception centre at the Holme Valley hospital. – all gifts given at church over the past week. At first I kept a count of how many visits I had made to the hospital taking food items, usually two bags full each time. I lost count but think it must now be at least thirty visits each an indication of the generosity of people here – and not only generosity but thoughtfulness because, as I know too well, it’s easy to forget to take something along for the box in the porch, or even to think it doesn’t really matter, but the people who run the Food Bank know just how much it matters. And I also wonder frequently why it should be necessary for those who live among us in an affluent society to have to rely on such food banks which have sprung up in probably most areas of the country. It’s a political matter and one which demands our thoughtful concern as well as actually giving the food.

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Star Wars movies, from 1977 to the present, dramatise the conflict between good and evil. Drawing on themes from various religions and locating fictional events in an imaginary galaxy ‘long ago and far away’, Star Wars feature alien creatures, robots and the now famous Jedi who represent good, versus the Sith who are evil. An omnipresent energy, known as the ‘Force’ is said to bind the galaxy together.

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We are full of good intentions at the start of each year. How come we fizzle out by February? Here are some tips to keep you going…

Be realistic. If you have a number of goals, do NOT attempt them all at once. Research has found that if you stagger your goals, you will have more success. So for example, if this year you want to spend less money, do more exercise and spend more time with your family, start one change this month, another in February, and start the third in March.

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One person you are bound to run into this Christmas season is Father Christmas. These days he seems to frequent shopping malls and garden centres. If he looks tired, just remember that he has been around a long time, and gone through a lot of transformations.

Father Christmas wasn’t always the red-suited, white-bearded star of the retail trade that he is today. He began life as Nicholas, born way back about AD260 in Patara, an important port on the southern coast of what is now Turkey. When his parents died and left him a fortune, Nicholas gave it away to the poor. He became a bishop of the nearby city of Myra, where he almost certainly suffered persecution and imprisonment at the hand of the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

Nicholas was a serious theologian: he was a participant at the First Council of Nicaea, which formulated the Creed which we still say today. He even, reportedly, slapped another bishop in a squabble over the exact nature of the Trinity.

Nicholas died in Myra about AD343, but the stories of his generosity and kindness were just beginning. One enduring tale tells of the three girls whom he rescued from certain prostitution by giving them gold for their dowries. When the father confronted him to thank him, Nicholas said he should thank God alone.

In the UK, Nicholas became the basis for Father Christmas, who emerged in Victorian times as a jolly-faced bearded character. Meanwhile, Dutch and German settlers had taken him to America with them as Sinter Klaas and Sankt Nicklas.

It was in America that Nicholas received his final two great breaks into real stardom. The first was when the Rev Clement C Moore, a New York Episcopal minister, turned from his life-work of writing a Hebrew/English lexicon, to write a fun poem for his children one Christmas. His ‘The Visit of St Nicholas’ is now universally known by its first line: ‘T’was the Night Before Christmas’.

From Clement Moore we discovered that St Nicholas is round and pink-cheeked and white-bearded, and that he travels at night with sleigh, reindeer and a sack of toys on his back. It was Clement Moore who also revealed that St Nicholas enters houses down chimneys and fills children’s stockings with toys and sweets.

So how did we find out that Father Christmas wears red? That was the US Coca-Cola advertising campaign of 1931, who finally released the latest, up-to-date pictures of Father Christmas: wearing a bright red, fur-trimmed coat and a large belt.

These days, it is good that Father Christmas uses reindeer and doesn’t have to pay for petrol. In order to get round all the children in the world on Christmas Eve, he will have to travel 221 million miles at an average speed of 1279 miles a second, 6,395 times the speed of sound. For all those of us who are exhausted just rushing around getting ready for Christmas that is a sobering thought.