In Latin American tradition, yesterday was Three Kings Day. The kings finally reach the manger in the family nativity set, after long days traversing shelf and mantel, table and ottoman. Community parties, parades, and gift giving mark a major festival.
This is the day we celebrate the first recognition of Jesus as King by people outside the Jewish community. Others of us know the day as Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas. Through most of Christian history, this day has been a more important celebration than the Feast of the Nativity, or Christmas. It represents the beginning of the fulfillment of an important prophecy: that Israel’s King would be honored by and ultimately rule over the entire world.
The “three kings” were Eastern astrologers who studied prophetic literature from every tradition. They came to Israel because they had seen a configuration in the heavens that they understood designated the birth of a new King for the Jews and they felt a need to see him.
On their way, they stopped in on Herod, who was then ruling over the region. This would be a typical courtesy, a state visit by important citizens entering a new kingdom. Herod tried to enlist their help in locating this potential threat to his own reign. But these mystics, who were not Jews, were warned by God in a dream to stay away from Herod. After visiting the stable, they returned home without giving Herod the information he wanted.
They left the new King’s family some of their gold, frankincense, and myrrh — valuable items that they would have carried with them at all times, as currency and for mystical or healing properties. If you’ve ever enjoyed Menotti’s opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, you remember Caspar singing about the box he always carried, full of semiprecious stones for healing and even licorice to share with friends.
Three Kings Day marks the beginning of the fulfillment of an important prophecy: that the King of Israel would become a light to all nations.
This year, let’s remember that the first people from “outside” to recognize Jesus were astrologers and mystics — essentially people who might identify themselves as “spiritual, not religious” today. If they are drawn to Jesus by signs we know better than to follow, let’s welcome them to the stable and allow the Light of the World to illumine them with truth and warn them from danger, just as He did so many centuries ago.