When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in Judea, during the days of King Herod, wise men from the East arrived in Jerusalem
Today it customary to greet each other with "Happy Three Kings". It's part of a long-held tradition that we call this day Three Kings, and in fact, in some spanish-speaking countries, it's also customary to exchange gifts on this day, el dia de los Reyes, in memory of the gifts given by the Magi. Funny thing is however, the Gospel for today makes no mention of kings, except Herod, but rather points out the visit of the Magi, or wise men, learned men. Neither does it mention that they were three all in all (For all we know the whole Astronomic Institute of Mesopotamia drove down upon Bethlehem that night). One would surmise that we have the tradition of the three kings due to the fact of the gifts that they brought along with them, and because of the fact that wisdom always carries with it the gravitas of nobility (wasn't it Confucius who said that the basis of kingly rule was wisdom and virtue?).
These are just musings of mine. The great feast that we celebrate today is greater than any squabble we may have if whether they were really kings or whether there were actually four of them (or five). We celebrate that historic event of the Incarnation of Our Lord, an event which is a manifestation of the saving will of God for man, a salvation which comes through the chosen People of God, but which is also meant for all men of all nations and peoples. Today we talk about the Epiphany or the manifestation of our Lord and Savior.
Pausing along this line of thought for a little while however, aside from just talking about the Manifestation, I think that it is also important to consider also the Search which these wise and learned men had, something which led them ultimately to that which they had been waiting for, and how they got more than they had originally bargained for.
In the story of Christmas it is always interesting to note the story of these men. They were also the guardians of a prophecy to be fulfilled, one which pointed out the dawn of man's salvation, the fulfillment of which would be pointed out by a marvelous sign in the heavens. These men had thought much before finally embarking on the journey which would immerse them in the perils and difficulties of travel, discerning that the discovery was worth all the danger and inconvenience of traveling. They embarked on a journey which offered them no assurance of anything but danger and a possibility of disappointment and frustration; they went, guided only by their faith on the unseen, by a star and the promise of salvation.
Their saga finds its echo in our own quest for God. We have already found Him, and yet it means that we continue to be on the journey of loving and knowing Him more. The quest to be able to see His face clearer each day is not free from the danger of disappointment, from that of our sins and infidelities. It is arduous, and we are guided only by a star, our faith which would be never far from the shroud of the darkness of our vision (at least in this live), and the promise of salvation.
The Magi went off in search of a king wrapped in glory, a God who could only be approached from afar, and a savior whose method of salvation could be unsettling. At the end of the journey their gaze rested not upon glory, but upon the humility and poverty (and helplessness) of a newborn child. It will take an equal amount of humility, poverty and faith to kneel down before such a creature, behind whose facade rested the grandeur and glory of Divinity. The Magi undertook this last voyage from their own view of who God was to this humble acceptance of the novelty of God's manifestation in the flesh, as they stood in surprise before the Child. Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said that Divinity is found where men least expect to find it, and finding it, these men, standing tall among men because of their wisdom and learning, prostrated themselves and worshiped God, recognizing the King, the Lord and the Savior long promised them with their gifts of Gold, Incense and Myrrh.
The experience of these men makes us consider the fact that God can only be accepted and worshiped by us, and fashioned. We cannot fashion God according to our whims and ideas. It is said that in the beginning, God made man according to His image and likeness. Nowadays it is man who tries to fashion God according to his own criteria. When people try to fashion a God according to their tastes and caprice, according to their personal ideals, their advocacy and supposed "rights", Christmas becomes less real for them, and the Mystery of the Word becoming flesh cannot infuse new life into them.
This feast is about seeing the face of God in Jesus Christ, a face that is presented and proclaimed to us by the Church in her faith and mission. We cannot fashion this face for ourselves; it could only be accepted by us. When we pit ourselves against the Church and her witness to Christ, we lose this sight which enables us to contemplate the mystery of the Word Made Flesh. This feast teaches us to kneel and adore the God who has come down to us, one whom we have not fashioned, but rather a God who, by his humiliation, has covered our human nakedness with the dazzling garment of His power and grace.