Sunday, January 08, 2006

We three kings of Orient are...

Published January 8, 2006

Epiphany is a feast day celebrated within the liturgical calendar of the Church wherein we remember the famously historical Three Kings, who traveled far and wide in order to pay homage to and worship the Christ Child. In honor of their visit, they offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts were significant, not only in their symbolism, but in their value. Certainly one would wonder, why these things? I am sure Mary and Joseph could have used some other things to care for the Divine Child. After all, tradition says he was born in a stable or cave, humble surroundings no doubt. It wasn’t so much about the gifts and what was done with them afterwards, but the revelation of the Kings themselves. They knew who He was. The gifts were the symbols of their own epiphany. They knew their station was far below that of a greater King.

When the kids were born, especially with our first, we were showered with gifts. It was amazing how many onesies, booty socks, car seats, diaper pails, bath items, clothes, and layette items one can accumulate because of the love and generosity of friends. We didn’t want for anything when it came to the birth of the kids. How thankful we were. It made the road easier to face and it made us excited about the impending birth. There is something about being prepared that makes the task ahead less daunting.

When the Kings set out, they set out not knowing each other. They came from different parts of the world. Melchior was King of Nubia (also called Arabia), and it was he that bore the gift of gold. Because his kingdom was near the Red Sea, they said the gold had a red hue to it and was the finest in the world. The next king, Balthazar, came out of the land of Saba or Gondolia, and because of the spices that were grown there, the finest in the world, he carefully bore his best incense, or frankincense, which came from a tree and resembled the consistency of gum. The third king, Jaspar or Gaspar, came from Tharsis, and was Ethiopian. In the isles of Tharsis, myrrh grew more plentifully than on any place on earth. It grew like wheat and waxed thick. It was used as a preservative and they anointed the dead with myrrh. It was very expensive and in some part of the world, was worth more than gold per ounce.

Apparently they did not meet until Jerusalem. They had followed the same sign, a Star…something foretold long before they met. Isaiah had written many years before, “Jerusalem arise and take light for thy Light has is come and the joy of God is upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee, and the Gentiles shall in walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising”. Melchior arrived by way of Calvary. Balthazar arrived by way of Olivet or the town of Galilee. They say timing is everything, because it was at this point where they both hooked up with Gaspar. The Kings were told by their astronomers to follow the signs in the sky until they could not longer see the star. Apparently a cloud of darkness had covered the star and veiled their way at this juncture for the first time. You could call it a holy stop sign. It’s the only word I can come up with anyway.

All three met on highway beside of the hill of Calvary and greeted each other with joy. Figuring they all received the same signs and with the same intent, joined together to complete their journey. Although they spoke diverse languages, they were able to communicate. They rode into Jerusalem at the uprising of the sun. With a brief stop to confer with the highly suspicious and insecure King Herod, they would learn that Bethlehem was the place they needed to be. After conferring with Shepherds who had seen the same Star, the veil was lifted and it shone brightly over the place where He laid. It’s interesting to note that tradition tells us that before paying homage to the infant Jesus, the Kings bathed, put on their best robes and arrayed themselves to be worthy to be received by the family who dwelt in a cave. Rather than reveal their findings to Herod. They took their “epiphany” home with them. But they took the long way rather than return by way of Jerusalem again.

As to the symbolism behind the gifts, many books have been written. Gold was symbolic of the power of a king, for gold pertains to tribute and justice. Incense is symbolic of divine majesty and is likened unto sacrifice. There could not be any Old Testament sacrifices with the shedding of animal blood or the burning of incense at the altar. Myrrh is given to symbolize the mortality of one because it is used in burial. Perhaps it was a foreshadowing of the Child who was born to die.

What many do not know is that the three Kings were later baptized by Thomas the apostle in India, they were consecrated as archbishops and they ordained priests. They all died around the same time and a great star shone around the time of their death. When Helena, mother of Constantine, sailed to India to search for the bodies of the three, which she recovered and later returned to Constantinople in the church of St. Sophia, it seemed they had reached their final resting place. But nay! After the death of Helena, the bodies are given to Eustorgius in Milan, who then, in bargain for an alliance with Archbishop Rainauld, had the relics transferred to Cologne, Germany, wherein they lie in the church of St. Peter to this day.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at

1 comment:

robert said...

An interesting write-up, but 99% of it is based on Gnostic forgeries and Mediaeval fantasies, not on the record of the Scriptures. Such trappings tend to obscure the intended message of the text.