January 6, 2008
Epiphany is the traditional church holiday that celebrates Christ made manifest to the Gentiles. The first Gentiles to worship Jesus were the Wise Men, or Magi.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:
"'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Two good Epiphany songs are below, though neither video has visuals I would have chosen, so here's a picture:
In addition to the fact that they bring three gifts, the traditional number three may derive from the three known continents of the middle ages. Sometimes the Magi were portrayed as European, African, and Asian, to symbolize in their persons all the Gentiles of the world, worshipping Christ.
We Three Kings of Orient Are
The Bible does not call the Magi "kings," nor does it specify three as their number. However, this song does give draw a nice symbolism out of each gift, gold for Christ the King, frankincense for his divine nature, and myrrh for his death and burial.
Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning
This song deals with the story of the Magi, which is told in Matthew, but it has a rather Luke-like emphasis on including the poor and penitent.