The Epiphany of the Lord (A)
My dear encountered couples:
The story of the three kings (the three wise men, the three astrologers) is one of my favorite stories. There is a mystery surrounding it that stirs my interest, always leaving me wondering about many things - what they looked like, where they came from, how did they really know about Jesus, and what happened in their lives after they returned home. And, of course, following a moving star, the Star of David, believing it would lead them where they wanted to go is really intriguing. They must have traveled all night, slept during the day, and never had to argue over how to read a road map. They did get lost at least once, though, didn’t they? They had to stop off at King Herod’s gas station and ask directions.
The point of the story, of course, is to show us that Jesus, the Messiah did not come just for the Jews, but for everyone. The three kings represent all the people in the world outside of Judaism; they represent the Gentiles. St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians writes, “In Christ Jesus the Gentiles are now co— heirs with the Jews, members of the same body and sharers of the promise through the preaching of the gospel.” The shepherds that were the first to see the Christ Child represented the Jews, the three kings who came later represented the Gentiles.
That’s a good point to remember. Too many people think they are the only ones f or whom Christ came. They consider themselves the elite, the remnant that will be saved, the only orthodox believers in the one true God. That’s the idea of many too many members of Christian denominations. Then there are the Moslem groups, the Hindus, and the many other sundry and varied religious sects who think they are the only ones with the correct idea of God. A good number of Orthodox Jews, of course, believe we’re all barking up the wrong tree and only they possess the true faith and the means to heaven.
That idea of exclusivity is what produced the apartheid situation in the country of South Africa. The ruling white people there believe that they are God’s children, while black people forever remain outside of God’s family and thus are inferior to whites. That same sort of nonsense prevailed in our own southern states during slave days when many Christians interpreted the Bible to suit their own selfish, exclusive, and proud purposes.
The three kings, wise men, astrologers, or whatever you might want to call them tell us today that Jesus Christ came for people of all colors and nationalities, that God loves us all equally and passionately, that heaven is meant to be the final destination and home for everyone. Let us try not to forget that. Many paintings of the Epiphany depict the three kings, one as white, one as black, and one as oriental in an effort to include all the peoples of the world. God excludes no one!
There is a point at the end of the story of the three kings that might also give us something practical to think about. Herod wanted the three to stop by his place again on their way home and tell him where they found the newborn king of the Jews. But our story tells us this:
“They received a message in a dream not to return to Herod, so they went back to their own country by another route.”
Why were they told that? Because Herod wanted to kill the Baby Jesus, not offer him homage nor give him any gifts. Herod was evil, he represented evil. The three kings were not to return to the evil from which they had come. That’s good advice for us.
We have entered a new year. I imagine that most of us can remember a few things from last year that we are not exactly proud about. There might have been some places we went to, some people we ran around with, some activities we engaged in that we know were not good for us. Are we going to return to those places, to those people, and to the doing of those things again this year? Or are we going to live our lives differently? Are we going to move ahead in life, or are we going to engage in ruining ourselves and lowering ourselves to the level of the devil?
Your home is heaven. If you try to go there by stopping off at Herod’s place you will never make it. If you choose to associate and become friendly with evil you will find your camel breaking down long before you get to your heavenly home. The three kings avoided Herod; I imagine they avoided all that was evil for the rest of their lives. Let us try our best to do that too.
Yes, the story of the three kings is certainly intriguing. It is meant to touch our hearts and to teach us things. Let us learn from it to live wisely. Then someday we might hear the rest of the story - in heaven, from the lips of the King of Kings. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, came for you - because he loves you. Go to him, love him back, and give him the gift of yourself. Don’t let the Star of David return to its place in heaven without you.