After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of
King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.
Epiphany (meaning “to reveal”) is arguably the oldest and most significant of all the Christmas traditions. It highlights the reality that due to our sin we cannot come to God; thus, God in Christ revealed Himself to us. The tradition of Epiphany, also known as “Three Kings Day” (Driekoningendag), is celebrated January 6 as recognition of the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as King. As such it corresponds to Simeon’s exultation, “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2: 30–32; emphasis added).
While Epiphany provides an extraordinarily meaningful climax to the Christmas season, it is ultimately rooted in tradition. The text of Matthew 2:11 notes that at the time of visitation by the wise men, Mary and Joseph were no longer in the place of Jesus’ birth, which contained a manger. Rather, they were now in “a house.” Moreover, the meagerness of Mary’s purification offering (Luke 2:22–24; cf. Leviticus 12:2–8) suggests that forty days after the birth of Christ, the day of the offering, Joseph and his family were still living in relative poverty. According to the Levitical law, Mary’s offering—“two doves or two young pigeons”—was the prescribed purification offering for one who had become unclean through childbirth and could not afford to offer a lamb (Leviticus 12:8). Had the wise men already arrived at the time of Mary’s purification offering, their generous gifts might well have made it possible for Mary to afford a lamb, as recommended in the Levitical law. In short, while Scripture does not indicate the exact date of the visit of the wise men, there is reason to believe that the visitors from the East did not arrive until some time after the day of Mary’s purification offering, which took place forty days after the birth of Jesus.
While it is important to separate truth from traditions, we must never cease to emulate the reverence and worship for the King of kings and Lord of lords manifested by the wise men. As such, when entities suggest that the wise men gave gifts to Christ, not to one another, we should immediately recognize that they have missed the point entirely. As Scripture makes abundantly clear, giving to others (particularly those in need) is tantamount to giving to Christ (Matthew 25:31–46). On Day 18 of your trek toward the heart of Christmas, may the Epiphany tradition encourage you to use your time, talent, and treasure to make the King of kings and Lord of lords known to the nations.