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Epiphany on Three Kings Day

On the 12th day after Christmas, many greetings of “Happy Three Kings” came through via Facebook notifications. What does one really do upon receiving such greetings other than responding back with another clipart celebrating the Day of the Epiphany. Most people will just automatically “like,” send or respond with similar speed. If you are the sender of such a greeting, what do you have in mind? What kind of reaction do you expect the receiver to show?

Every year, we celebrate this day without much introspection about what it means. It is just one of those traditional things we learned and practiced growing up. Some common understanding is that it is the end of the Christmastide. That it is also the day when the three wise also called the Magi - Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar paid homage to the infant Jesus to complete the Christmas story. They were not really kings but men who were accorded the honor of representing a kingdom. Western churches were really the ones who promoted this for obvious reasons – to bring more prestige to the visit.

The Hispanic world calls the day El Dia de los Reyes to celebrate the day of the three kings: Balthasar as king representing Saudi Arabia or sometimes Ethiopia, Melchior as king of Persia, and Gaspar as king of India according to Britannica. Each of the wise men brought fine gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Growing up, we were even told to match the gift to the three persons. Beyond that, is anybody’s guess.

The Catholic Church observes this day as the Solemnity of the Epiphany. The kingly wardrobe was a modern idea to dress them as kings to solidify the message of them being of royalty. Central to the celebration is the belief that the Magi from the East who were not Jews who saw Jesus as worthy of worship was proof that the infant Jesus was God’s manifestation to the Gentiles (epipháneia) here on earth. Thus, it was an “aha moment” (epiphany) that changed the course of history.

While we think that the first Sunday after Christmas (Three Kings Day) is the end of Christmastide, the Catholic Church teaches that the liturgical season of Christmas ends with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, the Monday after Epiphany (January 8). Monday is a workday thus the import of the day is lost among the faithful who celebrate the joy of the Magi. From Advent’s purple, the clergy switches to green vestments of Ordinary Time.

The baptism of Jesus occurred when he turned 30 when he asked his older cousin John to do the water immersing rite on the Jordan River. In a nutshell, the three kings did not see Jesus until twelve days later. Celebrating the Baptism of the Lord the day after gives a clearer picture of the succession. The Magi visit signifies God’s manifestation through the infant Jesus while his baptism signifies that day when the Holy Spirit (as a dove) descended upon Jesus. It was a new beginning for mankind that is marked by baptism, with the light overcoming darkness.

Remember the Christmas carol “Twelve Days of Christmas?” “On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me twelve drummers drumming…” The twelfth day of course is Three Kings Day. So, what is cool about 12 drummers drumming? Drumming has a powerful effect on people, it changes one’s rhythm by following or marching to the beat. It makes you forget the past and brings you to the present with every strike of the drum.

Reminds us of the little drummer boy who announced to the world with every parum-pa-pum-pum. “Come, they told me (parum-pa-pum-pum). A newborn king to see (parum-pa-pum-pum). Our finest gifts we bring (parum-pa-pum-pum).” The little drummer boy played his drum as his gift to honor Him. That was one drum heralding the birth of the Redeemer. On the 12th day, we got 12 drums drumming on a different beat.

Surreptitiously, the twelve drums are supposed to stand for the 12 doctrinal points of the Apostles’ Creed (I believe in God, the Father almighty is one). It is indeed a fine gift from our faith, from our Church that affirms our belief. That is one momentous epiphany that opens us to the portals of the divine. It just can’t be the mind processing the thought. The body, the heart, and the soul should act together to produce a miracle of thought.

To have such mind changing thoughts, however, we cannot continue telling people “Happy Three Kings” and expect the joy to flow. It cannot just be the thought of sending out greetings that counts. There must be feelings – not thought of feeling - of something that connects to your subconscious. We must move from knowledge to having awareness. To do that, we must exercise intellectual humility to start the Epiphany season.

Intellectual humility is associated with variables relevant to openness, tolerance of ambiguity, curiosity, and low dogmatism. People who are dogmatic are less likely to experience epiphanies. Humility aids in human cognitive functioning vis-à-vis social relations and religiosity. We cannot continue repeating the Creed without understanding every doctrinal point in it. One cannot continue to assert “that’s how I’ve been taught” without openness to new understanding.

Embracing a new understanding is a good use of the brain that has been gifted to us. We live in a highly polarized world marked by acrimony, conflict, and demagoguery. Tolerance of ambiguity allows one to tolerate a range of options besides “may way or the highway.” Sure uncertainty, unpredictability, and conflicting directions brought by multiple demands make people uncomfortable. Still, developing tolerance for such uncertainty makes one more effective operating in such an environment.

Intellectual humility allows one to see what philosophers and theologians have said in antiquity, in a new perspective. This is important if we want to enhance our understanding of “communing with saints” as a drumming doctrinal point. We must recognize the social importance or nature of such understanding. Why? Kneeling in front of an image of a saint is often viewed by non-Catholics as idolatry. Is it?

Let’s commune with St. Augustine for example, on his thoughts about Christmas and Epiphany. “Abiding with His Father, He made for Himself a mother; and when He was made in the womb of His mother, He remained in the heart of his Father.” “Let men rejoice, let women rejoice. Christ was born man; he was born of woman. Both sexes have been honored.” “Apparently, it was a greater prodigy to see a new star shinning at His Nativity than to see the sun in mourning at His death!”

Wow! Bishop Augustine of Hippo delivered a sermon full of metaphors and gospel proclamations. As a Catholic, I can only wish that current members of the clergy commune with this famous saint before putting together their sermons. I’m digressing. Augustine’s sermon has to do with his own epiphany that even the worst sinners (that he was) can become saints.


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