The Gifts of the Three Kings
Fr. Scott A. Haynes
For almost a millennium, pilgrims have traveled to Cologne Cathedral in Germany to venerate the relics of the three wise men. Although St. Matthew does not tell us the names of the wise men, in the West they have traditionally been given the names Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar.
There behind the High Altar rests a large golden reliquary said to contain their bones and skulls. These sacred relics were originally located in Persia, but were brought to Constantinople by St. Helena, Constantine’s mother. The bones were transferred from Constantinople to Milan in the 5th century and to Cologne in 1163. So not only did the wise men journey during the lives but, even after death, their relics went on a long journey.
The journey the wise made to Bethlehem was not the only journey they made. They also made a spiritual journey. They went from paganism to Christianity. Remember that they were pagans, not Jews. Scholars tell us they were priests of an Eastern religion who consulted stars; they may have been priests of Zoroastr. They were astrologers. They consulted the stars to guide them. Today, there are many who follow horoscopes, palm reading, tarot cards, wicca and other occult media, in hopes of knowing the future, or with the intention of manipulating the course of future events.
For Christians to be involved with this is a serious sin, because these pagan practices are in violation of the First Commandment – “Thou shalt have no strange gods before me.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate power. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone. (§2116)
You see, when the wise men encountered Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the Nations, they left behind all of this nonsense. When they saw Christ, the Daystar from on high, they left had no further need of stargazing. They gave up all pagan practices and they fell on their knees before the Infant King.
They brought him three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Why did they bring him gifts? Well, these kings were from Persia, descendants of the Chaldeans. And it was the Chaldeans who had run riot in the temple of God in Jerusalem, pillaging and destroying the temple. Now these kings did not come to blaspheme the temple. No! They now came to worship and adore the Lord of the temple. They brought him gold because Christ is the King of the Universe; frankincense because Christ is God Incarnate and myrrh, a burial ointment, because Christ came to die for sinners.
The wise men traveled from Persia – an awfully long journey. Historians say this trip should have taken three months. But more importantly, their pilgrimage to Bethlehem is really a symbol of the inward journey they made in their hearts – a journey from paganism to belief in Jesus as the Savior of the world. Like the wise men we are on a spiritual journey to find our Savior. Our journey may not be from reading stars, consulting horoscopes and witchcraft, but we each are called to walk away from our own sinfulness, whatever it may be. We are to step out of our own spiritual darkness and proceed into the light of the Christ-child. Understand that every person must undergo a spiritual conversion – a metanoia!
Together let us approach the crib of the Baby Jesus. Follow the Three Kings and bring your gifts along with theirs: the gold of true contrition, the frankincense of fervent prayer and the myrrh of self-discipline and mortification. On Epiphany, we celebrate that fact that the wise men went on a journey to see the Holy Face of Jesus. Today let us pray that God may lead all nations to know that Jesus is the Savior of the world. Let us pray that every knee may fall prostrate before that Holy Child of Bethlehem.