The Feast of Three Kings — also known as the Epiphany — is usually celebrated 12 days after Christmas on Jan. 6. The Feast of Three Kings is significant because it indicates the manifestation of God in the form of His son Jesus Christ. The 12 days of Christmas come to an end on this day of the celebration of the culmination of Christ’s birth.
The feast day commemorates when the Divinity of Christ was demonstrated through the visit of the magi — the three wise men — to Jesus after His birth in Bethlehem.
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel.”
Established just after the second century, the Epiphany was adopted in opposition to a pagan festival of the Winter Solstice where tribute would be paid to the virgin goddess Aeon.
The Christian Epiphany also celebrates the Virgin Mary, through whom Christ was born, bringing to light the prophecies of the Old Testament found in Isaiah 7:4: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel.”
The magi or kings represent the portion of the world that was non-Jewish, unlike Jesus himself. This was to be a revelation to the gentiles (or the non-Jewish population) that Christ had been born and was to be their savior, too.
It is important when looking at this traditional feast of celebration that we examine the symbolism in the gifts given by the kings. Jesus was given gold, frankincense, and myrrh — but why was He given those things specifically?
Gold was a gift often given to kings. As a fine and rare metal, this gift showed the great importance not only of the bearer of the gift but of the one on whom the gift was bestowed. A gift of gold to a tiny baby without a home and born in a stable seems a bit out of place.
That is, of course, unless these three kings saw the true majesty of the baby messiah, which means “the anointed King.” Giving gold was not a gift of grandeur, of unnecessary extravagance. A gift of gold to this poor couple, who brought into the world a baby in an animal stall, showed the prestige and importance of Jesus; it showed He was King of Kings.
Frankincense was used historically during worship to anoint and was also used medicinally. It is said to have healing powers for most any ailment.
Similarly, myrrh carries medicinal powers, including a more modern use of diaper rash salve, which seems humorously fitting for the baby Jesus. These two gifts were seen as highly coveted and appreciated for their healing properties and were the perfect gift for an infant Savior.
The three kings, said to have been guided to Jesus by a star in the night, hold traditional religious significance during this time of celebration of the birth of the new king.
The celebration marks the end of the Christmas season and the transition into Ordinary Time and then the Lent season, a period when many Christians reflect on Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the desert — ultimately leading to his death.
The three kings’ celebration marks Jesus’ life, the beginning of a spiritual healing offered to the world.
It is difficult to look at Jesus’ birth without also looking forward to His impending death — for that is why He came into the world, to save us. The Feast of the Three Kings allows us time to memorialize the birth of Jesus and the importance found therein so that the death, burial, and resurrection can be better understood.
As opposed to a forlorn feeling brought about by His death, the mood around this feast is one of joy and of peace, of hope of what is to come through the Christ child, even His inevitable death on a cross.