If we've ever stopped to wonder (and the familiarity of the story may mean we never have), there are some obvious answers. Gold is a gift fit for a king: 'Gold I bring to crown him again', as the carol puts it. Gold reflects the paying of a tribute, or tax, to the Emperor - although in this case, it's voluntary, not forced. It speaks of the giving of worth and of value.
But this offering of gold holds particular meaning in our own age. It announces that gold is less important than the Christ child. Gold is something which should come under his authority, not the other way around. They operate in the same sphere of life and cannot be compartmentalised; spirituality is deeply this-worldly because it's about the choices we make with the life, opportunities and wealth we have. Money is deeply spiritual because it's a means by which we express our priorities and make real our faith. As Jesus said in his adult life, 'You cannot serve God and money.' There's a choice to be made, priorities to be established, and the Magi have discovered the truth.
It's a truth we need to hear afresh. Putting wealth first - in blunt terms, the pursuit of greed - was what led to the banking crisis of 2008. The repercussions have largely impacted on the poorer sections of society, even as, this last week, record levels of bonus were paid out by one of the banks. Putting wealth first through the levying of extortionate rates of interest has, again, been hugely detrimental to the well-being of the poor at times when they are least able to cope financially. And the wealth gap is growing between the rich, with six- and seven-figure incomes, and those on the minimum wage or zero-hours contracts. Yet research around the world correlates happiness and contentment with societies in which the gap between rich and poor is much narrower. It's bad for us all to live in a society divided by wealth and poverty.
Proclaiming that gold - our wealth - is subservient to Jesus encourages us to use it in a different way: for justice, righteousness, and the relief of need. That has implications for the way we gain wealth, as well as what we use it for. It requires a change of heart, a change of values, from the culture which currently prevails. Jesus spoke a great deal about money and possessions, and we do well to heed what he taught.
And perhaps the sharpest challenge of all is for us to have a change of perspective; asking, not 'How much of what is mine shall I give away', but 'How much of what is God's shall I keep for myself?'