wise magi of the east
Three Kings came riding from far away,
Melchior and Gaspar and Baltasar;
Three Wise Men out of the East were they,
And they travelled by night and they slept by day,
For their guide was a beautiful, wonderful star.
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Three Kings
Popular depictions of Christmas compress the nativity story — as though the three kings’ show up in Bethlehem on Christmas, although traditional celebrations put their visit 12 days after Christmas.
Called Epiphany or Three Kings Day — it is the official commemoration of the arrival of the Magi — one of Christianity’s oldest holidays. Roman Catholics celebrate Epiphany on January 6, and Orthodox Christian faiths celebrate on January 19.
Although they appear only once in the story of Jesus’ birth the wise men from the East made a lasting impression in the Christian imagination.
The Magi are both real and symbolic. As real men, the three kings confirmed ancient prophecies about Jesus being the Messiah. As symbols, they showed that he came to save all people — rich and poor, learned or unschooled, from anywhere in the world.
Later versions of the story identified the magi by name and identified their lands of origin — Melchior hailed from Persia, Gaspar (also called “Caspar” or “Jaspar”) from India, and Balthazar from Arabia.
Their gifts had special symbolic meanings as well — gold signified Jesus’ status as “King of the Jews,” frankincense represented the infant’s divinity and identity as the Son of God, and myrrh touched upon Jesus’ mortality. (Learn what archaeology is telling us about the real Jesus.)
In the Christmas carol, Melchoir says,
Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain,
Gold I bring to crown Him again
Gaspar follows by singing,
Frankincense to offer have I,
incense owns a Deity nigh
Then Bathazar sings,
Myrrh is mine,
its bitter perfume breathes
a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
sealed in the stone cold tomb.
These wealthy travelers were also the opposite in social and economic scale to the shepherds who had visited Jesus right after his birth.
The implied message in the title “Wise Men” is that wise people acknowledge their need for a savior and seek to find him. While foolish folk like Herod the Great reject Jesus and even seek to destroy him.
These magi or kings were the last of those who still carried the ancient initiation wisdom. They came “from the East,” the region of the Tigris and Euphrates, the region of Chaldea and ancient Persia.
They were temple priests who read the stars, not as astronomers read the stars, but out of spiritual perception. Though the actual movements of the planets were by that time observed and followed, their meaning arose from a deeper initiation knowledge.
May their wisdom — carried through the ages — shine our way into a better and kinder 2022.
Originally published at http://woaworld.blogspot.com.