When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:10-11 NIV)
In the church calendar, on January 6, we celebrate Epiphany. It is 12 days from Christmas, December 25. This is the original idea which the 12 days of Christmas is derived from. Sometimes January 6 does not appear on a Sunday. In other years, we celebrate Epiphany Sunday on the closest Sunday to January 6.
Epiphany means “manifestation” or “appearance”. In its basic core, Epiphany celebrates the manifestation or appearance of God to the world early in the new year. In some Latino cultures, it is not called Epiphany but “Three Kings Day”. They celebrate the manifestation or appearance of the baby Jesus to the Magi from the East. It is called “Three Kings Day” not because there were 3 kings from the East who visited Jesus. However, there were 3 gifts brought before the baby Jesus, gold, frankincense and myrrh.
We must get beyond the sentimentality of Christmas greeting card picture when we read about these Magi. First, the Greek word is Magi, not wise men or kings. This means they are astrologer magicians who look at the stars. That is why they are captivated by the Christmas star. In the Old Testament, the practice of divination or sorcery is forbidden (Leviticus 19:26). That is one reason probably why Herod and his advisors are disturbed when these Magi appear in Jerusalem (Matthew 2:3). How can these sorcerers come to our city? Don’t they know that their practices are not welcome in our culture?
Second, these Magi come from the East where Persia and Babylon are. They are pagan. They worship many gods not the one God of Israel. They come from an alien religious culture. Again, Israel is to have nothing to do with this type of pagan culture. “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3 NIV) The sentimental greeting card picture of wise men in the stable with Jews in Bethlehem is not an acceptable scene in the Israel that Jesus was born into. These Magi are forbidden from being in the same room as the chosen people of Israel. These Magi are enemies not friends. They come from one of the nations of the East, who subjected Israel to exile 700 years earlier.
Herein lies the miracle of the Christmas story. These Magi were astrologers who look at the stars. They are pagan, meaning that they have no understanding whatsoever of the God of Israel. Yet this God makes one of their stars so distinct that it leads them to Jerusalem to find the king of the Jews. Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. (Matthew 2:2 NIV) The people of Jerusalem do not know how to treat them. As far as they are concerned, these Magi are “outsiders” who do not have an appreciation of the God of Israel. Following the star and after the detour of Jerusalem, these Magi are led to a stable in Bethlehem. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11 NIV)
These Magi experience an epiphany.
Our God is a God who welcomes outsiders.