The Three Kings
Go to Cologne Cathedral and you can see the Shrine of the Three Kings - a splendid edifice of high Gothic and testimony to the faith of the Middle Ages and also to the miraculous survival of the Cathedral from destruction during allied bombing.
Whether the three Wisemen really were buried there must be doubted but their shrine is a reminder of the fascination the Wisemen have held over Christians down the ages.
Today, Epiphany, or what the Prayer Book describes as the manifestation of Our Lord to the Gentiles is in a sense their feast as well as being a major feast of Our Lord.
What can they teach us?
- The importance of searching for the truth. The Wisemen probably came from Persia - they were Zoroastrian by faith. They spent a lifetime searching for the truth about existence, asking the difficult 'God' questions. A proper curiosity about such matters can be the seedbed of faith. It is sad if people fail to give it time.
- They were willing to travel. They saw the star and they followed. They were prepared to go on a long arduous journey, a pilgrimage, in their pursuit of he truth. Their journey can stand as a metaphor for the Christian pilgrimage of faith - a spiritual journey in the company of Jesus. As Newman described Christianity is always about development. Baptism, conversion is a beginning not an end.
- They were not afraid of confronting the secular power. Herod was a ruthless tyrant and yet the Wiseman went straight to Jerusalem to ask, 'Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?' They went along with him as far as it suited their purposes, but also avoided him when they perceived the dangerous nature of his interest in the child. Thus Christians will have an uneasy relationship with the powers of this world, being neither conformist nor revolutionary.
- They were prepared to go to an unlikely place. A stable in Bethlehem despite the prophecy of a birth in Bethlehem was not the most obvious place to find a king. Yet the Wiseman went there. To be people of faith is to be open to the ridicule and incredulity of others.
- They worshipped. The Wisemen were overwhelmed with joy when the star stopped. Their response was to pay homage, to worship him. This gives us a good definition of worship, our response to being overwhelmed by God. Many people claim to have no religion, not to worship anything. For the first time, in history generations are growing up who practice no faith. This is disturbing. In reality people do worship something. If it is no God then it will be money or power or evil.
- The Wisemen gave of their treasure. Their gifts show us who Jesus is.
- Gold is for a King. The Crucified, Risen, Ascended, Jesus is Lord and King over all creation. Now he is seen in a cattle-feeding trough.
- Frankincense reveals that Christ is to be worshipped as the Son of God. Like incense rising our prayers ascend to heaven. We too worship the babe in a stable, God almighty.
- Myrrh shows how Christ will die. It was used to anoint bodies for burial.
TS Eliot's lines capture this.
'…Were we led all that way for birth or death? … I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.'
To follow Christ is to die to self that we might live to him.
- They were adaptable. The Wisemen travelled home by another road. Their very lives depended on it. The mission of the Church requires us to adapt and change if the Gospel is to prosper.
The Wisemen give us valuable clues as to how to live the Christian life. Like them we will be willing to search for the truth and travel to find it. Like them we will be critical of temporal power and unafraid of ridicule. We will be people who respond to God's gifts in worship and by giving from our treasures. We will open to change as the way to life.
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Last updated 11/01/2003 16:00:00 Author: Fr David Shepherd