In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
There are more traditions we take for granted that were not part of the original story. For starters, Christmas wasn’t celebrated in the early church. The two major feasts were Easter and Epiphany, the latter happening every year on January 6th. Epiphany celebrates the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus, and how he came not just for the Jewish people but for the whole world. The magi, or “three wisemen” as the Christmas carol says, represent the world.
So how do we know there were three? We don’t, and they certainly didn’t arrive when Jesus was born despite what the nativity play may tell you. These stargazers arrived months, and maybe a year after Jesus was born. But they did bear gifts, three of them, in gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Reflect on the plan God has for you and the world. You’re a part of the unfolding hope for the world whether you know it or not.