Last weekend our family celebrated our first ever Día de los Reyes or Three Kings Day. In Puerto Rico, as is the case in the majority of Latin American and US Latino contexts, it’s not just Santa who comes to town bringing gifts, but the Reyes Magos (“the Three Kings”) too.
On the night before Epiphany, children all across the island fill glasses full of water for the thirsty Wise Men and shoeboxes full of grass for their hungry camels. The next morning, the house wakes up to find the glasses empty and boxes full of gifts! The rest of the day is filled with family, food, drinks, music, and fun; and everyone wants to know, what did the Kings bring you this year?
Well, the Kings didn’t bring me anything. Nothing tangible, anyway. What the Three Kings brought me was something much more valuable:
The first gift the Magi brought me this year was a striking reminder of God’s love for sinners! The Scriptures don’t tell us too much about these “wise men from the East that came to Jerusalem” in search of the Christ who was to be born. We don’t know their names, their ages, their countries of origin, or how many of them there were. One thing we can say for sure is that they did not deserve God’s love!
These so-called “Wise Men” were not only Gentiles who didn’t belong to God’s chosen people, they were Magi. “Magi” is the same Greek word from which we get the English word magician. It’s generous to think of them as what we know as astronomers today. But it’s more likely that they were astrologers or sorcerers, even, who worked for pagan overlords in the East. The Magi did not worship the God of Israel, but instead many times served kings that oppressed His people! These guys were not only outsiders, they were enemies of God and His people. (see Unlikely Savior, unlikely saints by David Petersen)
The Magi were the last people you would expect to find worshipping Jesus! That God would choose to reveal Himself to those “sort of people” would have been totally crazy to the Jews in Jesus’ day. And yet, this is how God does it! This is the unexpected surprise we get on Epiphany: that God reveals Himself to the most unlikely and undeserving kind of people, to people like the Magi, to people like you and me!!!
The second gift the Magi brought me this year was a profound example of faith.
In one of his Epiphany sermons, Luther notes that the star that led the Magi wasn’t enough to get the job done. The star announced the arrival of the King that had been born, but it didn’t tell them exactly where to find him. Using their human reason, they went first to the most logical spot – to the capital, Jerusalem, where you would expect to find a King. (“The Feast of the Epiphany of our LORD” in Festival Sermons of Martin Luther, translated by Joel R. Basely, pg. 195)
God does not want them to find Christ apart from His Word, and so he frustrates their plans. He takes the star away, so that they are forced to trust God’s Word alone. When they arrive to Jerusalem, the streets are empty. Talk about a bummer! “We just came all this way…and for nothing!” They learn the hard way, as most of us do, that we “cannot by our own reason or strength come to Jesus.”
They needed to hear the Word of God, spoken by the prophets, that the Christ would be born not in the big city, but in the little town of Bethlehem. And upon hearing this Word, they had enough. As unlikely as it seemed that the king would be found in poverty and weakness, they clung to the Word. They trusted in God’s promise, and by looking for God where He promised He would be found, the Magi were led to the Savior, and the fruit of their faith was great joy upon seeing their Savior.
I have to admit that when I first learned about the Three Kings tradition, I wasn’t so sure about it. While my kids relished the fact that they would get to open gifts twice this year, the whole thing seemed a bit redundant to me. But after considering the sort of gifts I received from the Reyes Magos this year, I’m convinced it is a great opportunity to teach my kids about God’s mercy for sinners, and to give them a wonderful example of faith that clings to God’s Word alone. ¡Feliz Día de los Reyes!