Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, the day we remember the visit, recounted in St Luke's Gospel, of the visit of the 'wisemen from the East' to Bethlehem. It marks the end of the Christmas festival and the beginning of the season of Epiphany, and something more. It marks the revelation of the Christ child to a wider audience than simply the Jewish people.
The 'wise men' represent the world population, and whether they were kings, astrologers, wandering mystics or anything else, is irrelevant. They came to Bethlehem, bearing gifts on our behalf. They saw, they spoke to Mary and Joseph, and went quietly home to await events. They and their story are significant simply because of who they came to represent - us.
This is one reason why, for the Orthodox Churches, 'Christmas' is celebrated at the Epiphany, and not on the 25th December. Perhaps something we should all attempt to recapture and reinstall in our frenzied world of fairy tales, reindeer, jolly old chaps with sleighs full of gifts and shop chains all dependent on turning the celebration of the birth of Christ into a feeding frenzy of profit to balance their books.
The gifts mentioned all have an allegoric significance - Gold represents the wealth of the world. Frankincense represents the offerings given in the Temple, which only the Priests could offer and then only to God, and Myhr is the embalming spice used to prepare the dead for burial. The gifts are the foretelling of what is to come for this babe in Bethlehem. St John says, 'He came to His own, and His own knew Him not.' The wise men from the East brought him the gifts, the offerings of the world, and while He would be rejected by His own people, they 'knew' Him and accepted Him.
That is the significance of their story as told in Matthew.
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