“We Saw His Star at Its Rising and Have Come to Do Him Homage”
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
We celebrate this Sunday the solemn Feast of the Three Kings that the Church’s Liturgical Calendar terms as the Epiphany.
Epiphany comes from Greek epipháneia that means “apparition”. So Epiphany is used in Christian worship to designate the apparition of the Lord God in human nature, in Jesus Christ, to all peoples and nations, particularly to those who have not known Him yet.
It is true that God has revealed Himself first through the creation of the universe and the human race in particular; and secondly through the incarnation of His Son.
Jesus Christ was born into the world as a descendant of King David, that means into the House of Israel, as was foretold by the Holy Bible. However, God the Father, by sending His Son into the world, wanted to show His merciful love not only to the people of Israel alone though they, being the Chosen People, really deserved, in the first place, salvation brought about by Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of the world. God also wanted to extend His saving power to the Gentiles, or non-Jewish peoples and nations.
The first Reading of today’s celebration taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah depicts a magnificent scenario of a great festival where the Holy Temple of the Lord God was flooded with countless peoples coming from the four corners of the world, bringing gifts of precious material such as gold and frankincense for the worship of the true God:
Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your Light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. (…) Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord.
So, from the second haft of the eighth century before the Birth of Christ, God had already informed the human family of this great Good News that salvation would be obtained by Jesus Christ for all peoples of all ages and all places in the world.
Saint Paul, the great missionary to the non-Jewish peoples, though a Jew himself, strongly declared in the second Reading that
The Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.
What does the Gospel say? Saint Matthew opens Chapter II of his Sacred Book as follows:
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw His star at its rising and have come to do Him homage.”
What a concordance, how a perfect harmony between what the prophets in the Old Testament had said and what has happened as reported in the New Testament!
Now, we go to these very interesting questions: where did the Three Kings come from because the Gospel only mentions the Magi? Who were the Magi? Were they only three or more than three?
Indeed we do not have the identity of the Three Kings found in the Gospel but only that of the Magi. The Three Kings scenario was the product of popular devotion to the Holy Birthday of Jesus Christ, the celebration of Christmas.
Magi in the ancient times were scholars who profoundly studied both sciences and religion matters. Therefore they were called sometimes “wise men”. The reason why they were limited in only three because of the number of their gifts offered to Baby Jesus, namely gold, frankincense and myrrh.
According to tradition, they were
1/ Melchior, or Melichior, a scholar coming from Persia, now Iran, representing European peoples;
2/ Kaspar, or Gaspar, or Jaspar, or Gathaspa, an Indian wise man, in behalf of the African continent;
3/ Balthazar, Balthasar, or Balthassar, or Bithisarea, leading the Asian race.
It is obvious that the feast of the Three Kings, or more exactly, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, brings us together from all over the world to the manger in Bethlehem where we see with our own eyes the merciful love of the Lord God manifested without any doubt or ambiguity in the lovely Child born of the Blessed Virgin Mary and well cared by Saint Joseph.
We are surely convinced through the celebration of the Birthday of Jesus Christ of this great truth that Salvation promised by God of old and awaited by countless generations has finally come true for you and for me and for all peoples without exception or discrimination.
Together with the three Magi, or Three Kings if you like, let us happily and proudly proclaim to the world this great Good News:
“We Saw His Star at Its Rising and Have Come to Do Him Homage.”
Fr. Francis Nguyen, O.P.