Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, the last of the Christmas Holy Days, which recalls and celebrates the visit of the Magi, astrologers from “the East” (i.e. lands beyond Israel) who followed the light of a heavenly phenomenon to find the newborn King of the Jews. “Epiphany” comes from a Greek word which means “revelation.” In this event we celebrate Jesus being revealed to the Gentile world.
While the Magi are sometimes called “Kings” and their traditional number is 3, the Gospel never refers to them as such, nor does it mention any specific number of their company. Referring to them as “kings” may be due to the prophecy found in Psalm 72:10-11. It is more accurate, however, to refer to them as “wise men” because the title “Magi” Matthew uses implies that they were of the intellectual class of their day. Furthermore, in their dialogue with King Herod we learn that they studied the heavens. Limiting them to 3 is a reflection of the gifts they gave.
While Santa visits children on Christmas, it is on Epiphany (traditionally celebrated on January 6) that gifts are exchanged in Southern Europe and Latin America in imitation of the Magi giving the first Christmas gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts are prophetic. Gold is a gift fit for a king. Frankincense was used in the worship of Oriental gods. And myrrh is a fragrant (and expensive) ointment that was used to embalm the dead. Thus, the Magi identified the Christ-Child as the God-King who would one day offer His life to save His people.
Many modern astronomers have tried to determine what these sages actually saw, and many interesting theories have been proposed. Regardless of what it was, how appropriate that the light of some celestial phenomenon led them to the One who is “Light from Light” and “Light of the World;” whose teaching and sacrifice would guide us through the darkness of sin and death to the light of everlasting life and love.
But the importance of this feast is not in the number or titles of the characters or the source of the light they saw and followed. It is in the simple fact that Christ came to save not just one nation but ALL nations. Yes, He comes first to His own people by the vessel through which He came into the world, the Virgin Mary, a daughter of Israel. So He is rightly revealed first to Jewish people, represented by Mary, Joseph and poor shepherds, as Luke’s Gospel tells us. But He is also revealed to non-Jews, and thus to the rest of the world, through the Magi.
The point is that God’s plan of salvation is meant for all humanity. He desires to unite Himself with everything He created; to truly be “Emmanuel” (Hebrew for “God with us”); to be not just God of the Jews, or of Christians or Muslims, for that matter, but of ALL human beings. Shame on any group that claims or acts otherwise! This is why religious bigotry is perhaps the worst form of prejudice, and religious discrimination can never be justified.
The Feast of the Epiphany declares that the Lord is the God and Father of us all, who loves us equally, plays no favorites, and desires that all His children do the same. As we pick up in 2019 where we left off in 2018, imagine what the world could and would be like if only we did! A final Merry Christmas to you all, as this joyful season draws to a close!
In His Love,