The 6th of January, Epiphany, is a day that is sometimes not associated with the Christmas holidays, (unless you are Puerto Rican). I was born and spent my childhood in Puerto Rico where El Día de los Reyes (Three King's Day) is just as important as Christmas. Traditionally, this was the day of gift-giving while Christmas was a religious holiday.
But of course Epiphany is not only celebrated in Puerto Rico. This year my school's annual drama performance was a rendition of "Twelfth Night" by Shakespeare. Twelfth night is another name for Epiphany, as it is the twelfth night after Christmas. This play was first performed on the celebration of Twelfth Night in Elizabethan England, hence the name.
So Epiphany is the day when people celebrate the arrival of the Magi to Bethlehem. It isn't the same as Christmas because they came approximately two years after Jesus' birth, when his star had appeared in the sky. That means that they did not come the same night as the shepherds, and they did not come to a stable (as many nativity scenes would have us believe).
Something one must ask though is what on earth were Magi doing in Bethlehem? Historically, Magi were priests of Zoroastrianism, an ancient Persian religion. They were known for being magicians who had the ability to interpret omens and dreams and offered sacrifices to the stars and planets. They were sort of astrologers because they were said to keep watch from generation to generation for a star that would appear and indicate the arrival of a savior. In any case, they certainly weren't Jewish. So how could the star they followed to their Savior have been the same Messiah that had been promised to the Jews?
A star is, after all, just a ball of burning gas far, far away from the earth. How could it guide people? I don't know much about stars, but I know that if you started to follow one, you would be led in circles as it traveled from east to west and then back again the next day. So how were the Magi able to follow a star all the way to Bethlehem? Moreover, how did it stop and stay right over Joseph and Mary's house?
We know little about the Magi who left their comfortable lives to go to Bethlehem. Savior or not, it's still a pretty crazy thing to do. It's not like there was a paved, six-lane highway from Persia to Judah. Their journey shows that they were truly devoted to God and to this Savior that had come to the world, so much that they were ready to go wherever that star led so that they could worship him.
Jesus Christ came as a baby to be the Savior of all nations and peoples and races on earth. The Magi are a clear representation of this wonderful fact. "There is no difference between Jews and Gentiles; God is the same Lord of all and richly blesses all who call to him." (Romans 10:12)
The God who created a star to guide the Magi all the way to the Savior and made it stop above him, is the same God who calls each and every one of us "go" and to let our going be an act of worship to him. He is the same God who, long ago, slid off of his mother's lap to touch a huge heavy jeweled box with his tiny hands and looked up as rich kings with long beards and flowing robes knelt before him in worship.
Written by Christa Troester
Baboua, Central African Republic
Photo: Hand-carved Wise Men from Bouar, Central African Republic, photographed in front of traditional Cameroonian indigo-dyed cotton fabric.
Christa Troester attends Ninth Grade at Rain Forest International School in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Her parents, Joe and Deborah are ELCA missionaries in Baboua, the Central African Republic. Joe serves as technical advisor for PASE, which provides clean drinking water and promotes good hygiene and sanitation to villagers. Pastor Deborah teaches at the Theological School in Baboua.