Three Kings Feast on 6th January
Three Kings, who figure in the New Testament story as the Magi or Wise Men of the East. You will undoubtedly remember how these Wise Men were warned of the birth of Christ by the appearance of a strange star in the heavens, and how, by following its guidance they arrived at the stable in Bethlehem where the Savior had been born.
They brought with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh which they presented to the Holy Child.
It was in memory of the gift-bearing kings that Epiphany among the Latin and Russian peoples is celebrated as the season for exchanging presents.
Little is said in the New Testament about these wise men. Popular legend has greatly filled out the Biblical story. It makes them three rich and powerful monarchs:-Caspar, King of Tarsus, the land of myrrh; Melchior, King of Arabia, where the land is ruddy with gold, and Balthasar, King of Saba, where frankincense flows from the trees.
According to some authors these kings were of the race of Balaam, the Old Testament prophet, who had prepared the Gentiles for the coming of Christ into the world. He had foretold that a new star should appear in that part of the sky under which lay the land of Judea, and had warned his descendants that when they saw the star they should follow it and should go to adore a great king who would be born somewhere in Judea and be Lord of the Universe.
Even from the time of Balaam, it is added, sentinels had been posted upon a mountain towards the east, in order that as soon as the star rose into view they should give notice of it to the lords of the country, that the latter might go without delay to pay reverence to the new king. This notice, as it happened, was not necessary in the case of Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. Being very wise and learned kings they were under the special care of the Holy Spirit, who informed them in person of the appearance of the star.
Each of them at once gathered together a retinue of servants, as well as troops of horses, camels and dromedaries, all of which were laden with the choicest products of their respective countries. Then they started out in search of the new born king. They looked up to the star as their guide, for it moved forward as they moved, and they well knew that it had been sent to show them the way.
Where the three kings met is not told, but they arrived in
Jerusalem together. As soon as they had entered the city gates the star which had guided them disappeared.
Now this was in accordance with the will of God,that on the failure of their starry guide the kings might make inquiries in the capital of
Judea , and by these means publish abroad the birth of the Son of God. Hence Herod and the Jews in general could have no excuse for ignoring this great event, and "the care and diligence of the Magi would reprove their negligence and indifference, because having Christ so near them, they did not seek Him, while these strangers came from distant countries for this cause alone."
And in fact the three kings, as they rode through the streets of
Jerusalem , asked of every one they met: "Where is He who is born King of the Jews? We have seen the star and have lost it."
None could give them any information, for no one in
Jerusalem had seen the star. One of the writers who tells this legend pauses to praise the "holy boldness" with which the Magi published a new king in
Jerusalem without having fear of Herod who might have been capable of putting them to death for this cause. This writer quotes with approval the words which Saint John Chrysostom later addressed in imagination to the kings.
"Tell me, oh good kings, do you not know that whoever proclaims a new king in the life of a reigning king is liable to death, that you do this thing, and thus place yourselves in manifest danger from Herod, who may easily command you to be put to death?"
The same writer quotes with similar approval
Saint John's answer to his own question: "The faith of these kings was so great and the love they bore to the new-born King so fervent, that even before they had seen Him they were ready to die for love of Him."
The news of how three great kings, with a vast following of servants and beasts of burden had arrived in
Jerusalem soon reached the ears of King Herod. He was greatly troubled when he heard that they had come in quest of a new-born King of the Jews, well knowing that the
Judea did not belong to him by succession or by birth, but that he had received it as a reward from the Romans, who had unjustly taken possession of it.
The first thing he did was to call together all the wise and learned men of Jerusalem, and ask them what the prophets had said about the coming of the Messiah, and the place where he would make his first appearance on earth.
And when they answered that the babe would be born in
Bethlehem he was still more troubled. He at once sent out messengers to invite the kings to his palace, where he prepared a great banque