In many homes the Christmas decorations have been taken down and packed away. The houses have been cleaned and put “back to normal.” It’s like the Christmas season has come and gone and we simply packed it way until next year.
Even though many of us have wrapped up our Christmas celebrations, there are some who are still celebrating the Christmas season. In many Hispanic homes Jan. 6 is even more important than Dec. 25. El Día de los Reyes, also known as Three Kings Day is the celebration of the Epiphany.
Epiphany is the celebration of the revelation of God through Jesus’ humanity. This is celebrated by honoring Magi and the gifts that they brought to Jesus. According to traditions; Melchior rode on a horse representing Europe, Casper rode on a camel representing Arabia, and Balthazar rode on an elephant representing Africa.
Melchior brought a gift of gold, representing his acknowledgement of Jesus as king. Casper brought a gift of frankincense, representing the acknowledgement of Jesus’ divine nature. Balthazar brought a gift of myrrh, an embalming oil. While this may seem like an odd gift to bring a baby, traditions states that it was a foreshadowing of Jesus’ coming death.
As tradition goes, children prepare a box of grass and a glass of water to place by their beds for the camels on the night of Jan. 5. The camels, who are messy eaters, leave a trail of grass leading to the presents the kings have left for the children. In the afternoon, families gather for large dinners; the children wear paper crowns, and everyone shares a special King’s cake (Rosca de Reyes).
Even though we may not celebrate Three Kings day in the same manner as those who participate in El Dia de los Reyes, there is a lot we can learn from their celebration. Let’s look at two lessons we learn from Matthew 2:1-12. Frist, it is important to honor and celebrate the Magi. Second, each of their gifts have specific and intentional meanings.
Why should we honor and even celebrate the Magi? First, as verses 1 and 2 states, the Magi traveled to Jerusalem once they had seen the star. Simply seeing the star, they knew it was a sign for the one who was born the king of the Jews.
In many English traditions we call these Magi “Wise Men.” Maybe these two verses are the reason they are referred to as Wise Men. No one had to tell them about the birth or where to go, rather they saw the star and knew.
Second, the gifts brought by the Magi have specific and intentional meanings. But first, the beginning of verse 11 reminds us of the true purpose of the Magi’s visit: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.”
After the Magi worshiped Jesus, they presented him with their gifts. As stated earlier, each of the gifts were specific and intentional, but they weren’t really practical gifts. How many times have you received a gift that was intentionally thought out, but not practical?
Gold, while seeming like a fitting gift for a King, it’s an out of place gift when we dig deeper into Jesus’s family. Mary and Joseph were not of the wealthy class, so what good is earthly wealth like gold?
Frankincense, a common incense used in the temple. Easton’s Bible Dictionary tells us that frankincense “was one of the ingredients in the perfume of the sanctuary, when burnt it emitted a fragrant odor becoming a symbol of the Divine name, and an emblem of prayer.”
Myrrh, an embalming oil, but Easton’s Bible Dictionary tells us that it was commonly mixed with wine and given by the Jews to those who had been sentenced to death by crucifixion to produce insensibility.
The next time we hear the Nativity story, may we remember the importance of the Magi and the gifts they presented to Jesus.
The writer is a pastor and assistant corps officer with the Salvation Army Sidney/Shelby County.