Guest Author - Linda J. Paul
In days of old, Christmas was a 12 day celebration. The ancient roots may have begun with the Roman celebration of Saturnalia. But, over the centuries the entire celebration was moved to two days, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The festivities carry on to New Yearís Eve, and after that it is pretty much over for the season. Except for Epiphany.
The story of the Nativity has been changed around quite a bit over the years, with the Three Wise Magi entering in on the night of the birth of Jesus. However, that was not the case, according to gospel. It actually took those wise men at least 12 days to get from where they were, which may well have been Persia, to Bethlehem. In all actuality it may have taken them a whole lot longer. But 12 days seems to be the agreed upon time of their arrival in Bethlehem.
So who were these Three Wise Mages? Well, we know they came from the east. And, we know they brought gifts to the newborn Jewish king. Beyond that, we donít know a whole lot. In fact, the only gospel that mentions the wise men is Matthew. There is no mention of them at all in Luke, Mark or John.
Basically the story Matthew tells is that the Magi observed a specific star in the night sky, which prophecy told them was a sign of the birth of a great king. So they followed the star. They entered into the palace of King Herod, and enquired about the birth of this new king. Herod was worried about losing his title, so he directed the wise men to go to Bethlehem and report back to him about the new king. They followed the star, paid homage to Jesus, and left a different way than they came, without giving any information to Herod. Mostly because they received a warning from a higher power that they should not divulge this information to Herod.
The rest of the story is speculation and elaboration. The Wise Magi may well have been from a Pagan based Persian religious order of Zoroaster. They may have been magicians, astrologers, enchanters and sorcerers. The word Magi is a derivative of the word magic. They were thought to have been of noble birth, educated, and wealthy. As astrologers and magicians, they would have recognized the Star of Bethlehem as fulfilling a Zoroastrian prophecy of a new prophet or messiah being born on a certain date when that star was present in the heavens.
The names of the Three Wise Magi are not mentioned in the Bible and were added at a later date by ancient storytellers. The Three Wise Men represent the three major races. Melchior was an old white man with a long white beard, bearing the gift of gold for Christís royalty; Caspar was young and of darker hue, carrying frankincense incense for Christís divinity; and Balthasar was a black man, offering myrrh for Christís suffering and death.
As usual, the basis for this holiday is a bit mixed up, involving the Baptism of Christ at a much later date, and a visit by a group of Pagan mages paid to a baby who was predicted to become a Jewish king . Of course, Jesus is known as King of the Jews, but he also was the central figure for a religion which sprang up after his death called Christianity.
Now, a real issue is raised here. The Jews may have recognized Jesus as a king, but they did not recognize him as a savior or messiah. The Christians believed him to be the Son of God and a savior. And, the Pagans didnít really care either way.
So, the story of the wise men solves that dilemma somewhat. The visit of the Pagan wise men who recognized Jesus as the new born king which also fulfilled their prophecies manifests Jesus as king to the Gentiles as well. In essence, Matthews gospel is an attempt to once again unite Christians, Pagans and Jews under one banner. And, that banner of course, would be Christianity.
The Feast of Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Three Wise Magi. It is also know as the Adoration of the Magi, celebrated on Jan 6th, the twelfth day of Christmas. Food abounds as does gift giving. There is another story connected with Epiphany which is about a witch and the Three Wise Men.. But that is a whole other article!
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