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EPIPHANY: KINGS AND KINGDOMS, Part I :FEAST OF THE THREE KINGS

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EPIPHANY: FEAST OF THE THREE KINGS

THE 12TH DAY OF CHRISTMAS 

KINGS AND KINGDOMS, Part I

The final celebration in the set of three “gift-giving” feast days marks the end of the Christmas holiday season—the 12th day of Christmas, or the Epiphany. The general date of this feast is January 6th, but it may be liturgically celebrated by some denominations on the nearest Sunday. (This year, it falls on Sunday, January6th,, 2019.)While American culture has not focused much on the feast of the Three Kings—the “Epiphany”— many European and Latino countries do celebrate this occasion.


WHAT IS THIS “TWELFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS”?

Americans know it from the “Twelve Days…” song. ("On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me....") Europeans (and others) actually exchange gifts on this day—in countries around the Mediterranean Sea (especially Italy), and in Northern European countries, too. Presents are given on both Christmas and Three Kings Day… and sometimes on days in between.

The word “epiphany” means—according to the Miriam Webster dictionary—“a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way”.

The feast initially celebrated all the occasions when Jesus Christ was “revealed”—to the world; to the Gentiles; to God’s people on earth; and as God Himself. Just a Jesus grew from a newborn baby, he also “…advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.” [Luke 2:52b]

While there were other events that occurred in His life that represented the gradually unfolding revelation of His true identity, this one happening near His birth is called “the Epiphany”: the celebration of the visit from the Wise Men to the baby Jesus.

We might just say it was the first major and marked “epiphany”… (or second, if we consider his birth as the first.) Other events that disclosed further insight into this God-become-flesh-Redeemer were His public “first miracle” at Cana; His act of coming to (His cousin) the prophet, John the Baptist to be baptized—with the descent of the dove and the Father’s voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” [Mt. 3:17].


SO—WHO WERE THE WISE MEN? HOW WAS CHRIST REVEALED TO THEM?

In eastern tradition, the term “theophany” is also used for this feast day.“Theophany” means “vision of God” or “seeing God”. “Magi” in ancient times were originally designated as a priestly caste. They also were “wise men”, and those who had knowledge beyond just natural, human understanding. Some studied the stars.

In ancient times, it was commonly believed that the appearance of a bright or new star announced or confirmed a ruler’s birth. In this case, more recent astronomers have said that the convergence of stars and planets—as seen from a distance— can appear to be a bright, new star. That occurs very rarely, and it is quite noteworthy and brilliant.

The magi followed the bright star across the desert, traveling from the east, as Matthew 2:1 tells us. Traditionally, it is believed that they originated from Arabia, Africa, and from Europe… and went by the names of Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior. Their gifts were carefully chosen and symbolic.

Gold represents royalty, and suggests Jesus’ later title, “King of the Jews” and “King of kings”.

Incense has long been used in offering homage and prayer to God. This gift to Jesus pointed to the fact that he was no earthly king, but the Son of God. It also is a reminder that Jesus is our “High Priest”, ever-interceding in our behalf before the Father…. "Jesus... has a priesthood that does not pass away. Therefore, he is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them." [Hebr 7:22-25]

Myrrh was a spice used in preparing a body for burial, and, therefore, it foreshadowed the death of Christ—His life given “as a ransom for many” [Mt.20:28; I Ti. 2:6]. This was an insightful and exceedingly rare gift to give a newborn baby!


HOW CAN THE “EPIPHANY” IMPACT OUR LIVES?

This Christmas season is a time when we are accustomed to feeling sentimental... celebrating with family and friends... eating favorite things... special holiday treats... but... let’s briefly add a note of seriousness here. Let’s take a moment to think about Who this little baby (was and) grew to be... and what He means to us. Let's look first at the concept of "kingship" and "kingdom".


The idea of “King” or kingship or kingdom in former times—particularly ancient times (and to varying degrees even in 20th century, pre-World War Europe)—was quite different than typical government in most current democracies and republics, or most Western governments—particularly in the history of the United States.

For example, with Queen Esther (in the Old Testament book of “Esther”) who lived under the Persian empire, anything the king said or proclaimed was considered “law”.

We (“modern culture” oriented) Christians declare that Jesus Christ is the “King” and the living “Word” (made flesh)—as the scriptures reveal. But with our democratic mentalities, we sometimes miss the weight of power that the word of a “King” carries… or the real impact of what His word says … or “Who” He really IS as “King”… King of kings.

At this nostalgic, often “feel good” Christmas season, it is ‘sweet’ to think of little baby Jesus as a “king”... sweet little baby in the hay... On the other hand, Jesus as eternal King, or coming-again King, or Lord-of-our-lives King is another matter altogether!


HOW DO WE RESPOND TO THE "EPIPHANY"?

As we listen to the epiphany readings this year we may realize that, in fact, each of us has a potential choice to make. We can choose how we are to respond upon hearing, again, about the birth of Jesus, the eternal King… how to respond in an authentic new way to what is (for most of us) “old news”… the King of kings is born… three kings/ wise men visit and bring gifts to honor Him…

Will we react as Herod did—with his first response being a sense of personal “threat”? (We may think, “Whoa!! Never! … How could that be?...") We may think that we have little in common with Herod, who was himself a king, to begin with… Particularly as we remember that it was the “king” aspect that pushed his buttons of fear in regard to a new king on the horizon. (That resulted in the magi getting a warning from the angel to by-pass Herod on their return trip, but it did not stop Herod from the slaughter of the innocent babies in and around Bethlehem. [Matthew chapter 2]) This reaction was both extreme and horrific…

So... Act like Herod? Of course not!! Surely... we would never go as far as he did! (…killing the holy innocents…) But, our desire to “feel good” spiritually may prevent us from facing a substantial truth: that bowing to Jesus Christ as King (and Lord, and acknowledging the power and lordship that kings through the ages have possessed) may “cramp our style” a bit too much… It is much easier and much more “in-tune” with the rest of our culture to insist on ruling over our own lives, without too much Divine intervention. 

So... how could our reaction be related to Herod’s? Consider this: we may find similar feelings in our response, when we come to realize just how much Jesus desires to be “king” over each of our own individual lives… and each aspect of our lives. We may find ourselves totally dedicated to ruling and reigning in and over our own “domain”—whatever that domain may be… “and preferably, if you please, without interference or oversight, thank you”…

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE THREE WISE MEN?

More than two thousand years ago, three (and probably more) “Wise Men”—men of power, knowledge and influence (kings in their own realms)—traveled to follow a star, although they were neither Jewish nor (of course!) “Christian”. Yet, they had the humility and wisdom to seek out a better and wiser “king”—all the while not knowing when, how... nor how well this new king would rule over his “kingdom”!!

They risked and invested a great deal (traveling hundreds of miles over difficult landscape) to seek out this king who was attended by the light of a glorious star (and the earlier chorus of heavenly hosts singing nearby). They extended honor, and generous gifts, and valuable time, and the struggles of travel… to worship this King—far outside their own realm—this King Whom many of us have long heard and known about...

WHAT THEN CAN WE DO AS WE CELEBRATE THE EPIPHANY?

Consider this: courageously and boldly, we can seek even beyond the spirit of the Three Wise Men… having eyes to recognize and hearts to honor a lowly and unpretentious baby King, whose kingdom was unlike the worlds’ kingdoms. 

Maybe it is time for a new "epiphany" for each of us, and in each of us, personally… a new “realization/ revelation”—to refer back to the original meaning of the word, "epiphany".

Let's consider earnestly seeking that this new year. May it be accompanied by a grace that enables us to surpass the courage, humility and passion possessed by that group of wise men long ago.

May our gifts to this King (of what we find most precious to us) come from deep inside our hearts and our lives, so that this “newborn king” has full permission to create His kingdom rule in us, through us, and around us… “His kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”…as Jesus taught us to continually pray and seek.


This article has been enlarged, altered and adapted from our blogs in previous years from 2014, through the blog posted on December 27, 2017, under the title, EPIPHANY—FEAST OF THE THREE KINGS THE 12TH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, by Kathy Boh, on this website, trinitychurchsupply.com/blog

Part II of “EPIPHANY: KINGS AND KINGDOMS” will be published next week on this blog site. 

We will look, in depth, at the kingdom of God, what scriptures have to say about the kingdom, and what Jesus--the King-- has to say about it all. PARTS III and IV follow after that. The entire month's featured feasts also tie deeply into this theme, especially the last feast day, "THE CONVERSION OF ST PAUL: FROM PHARISEE TO FOLLOWER".

Check it out!


AND CHECK OUT THE REST OF OUR BLOGS FOR THE CHRISTMAS SEASON (posted on this website, trinitychurchsupply.com/blog)

~~JOY ON GAUDETE SUNDAY, posted December 14, 2018

~~ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS, posted December 11th, 2018

OUR SERIES: CHRISTMASTIME: THE GIFT-GIVING SEASON

~~ST NICHOLAS, THE ORIGINAL AND REAL SANTA, Part I of our series, posted on December 6th, 2018...

~~CHRIST AT CHRISTMAS: THE GREATEST GIFT EVER GIVEN, posted on trinitychurchsupply.com/blog on December 19, 2018, on this blog site,

and Part III of our series (which is Part I of KINGS AND KINGDOMS) is posted above:

~~FEAST OF THE THREE KINGS—EPIPHANY


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