"We three kings of Orient are .. NOT Kings!" In fact the whole "king" thing is all PR hype. These guys are passing themselves off as kings in the song, but in reality the Gospel tells us they were MAGI. Magi are not kings. Magi studied the occult and magic. We get our word "magicians" from Magi. They really were magicians. These guys pulled rabbits out of the hat, did card tricks, sawed ladies in half and that stuff.
These guys are rather shadowy figures. They have several aliases: Other translations (old NAB) call them Astrologers: you know, psychics, horoscopes, auras, crystals, New Age weird stuff. After all, they are wandering around the country-side trying to follow a star!
We know almost nothing about them - we don’t know their names, nor their country, (only that they come from "the East", I mean, it could be New Jersey!) nor what happened to them - not even sure there were 3 of them. The idea of THREE Kings is based on the number of gifts. They were dreamers: they change their itinerary and route and go back another way on the basis of a dream! They were not practical, sober, industrious types like us. I mean who gives myrrh as a birthday present? How weird is that?
In any case they were NOT Kings - not responsible pragmatists, administrators, realists. They didn’t know anything about budgets and personnel policies. They were, well, kind of flaky!
IN CONTRAST to these magi, take Herod – Now There was a KING! He was a RULER! In fact, he is known to history as Herod the GREAT.
Unlike those shadowy, mysterious, flaky Magi/astrologers -HEROD made his mark on history.
King Herod the GREAT ruled for 34 years. He was a wily, unscrupulous schemer and clever politician. He ruthlessly and cold-bloodily eliminated anyone who stood in his way, or might possibly stand in his way. Including most of his own family.
King Herod went through ten wives. He built theaters, roads, temples, amphitheaters, monuments, gardens, palaces and fortresses all over the place, and taxed the people severely to pay for his projects.
If you go to Palestine today you can still see the ruins of his works. Herod knew about POWER. He was a ruthless, cruel, no-nonsense, realistic pragmatist.
Notice in the Gospel how Herod interrogated the magi secretly to find out from them the time of the star's appearance. The translation we used to use made this even clearer by stating Herod wanted the “exact” time of the stars appearance. This man doesn't deal in dreams and visions and “feelings” - he wants the facts. He wants what's real. Because he was a doer. He made things happen. He was a POWER. He was HEROD THE GREAT!
Still, ..... we don't sing any songs about Herod at Christmas time - or any other time of the year.
We don't put plastic statues of him under the tree in the Manger scene.
And Herod, for all his power and hard-bitten realism, never did find the Christ child.
SO WHAT ABOUT US?
This Gospel story instructs us to look beyond the facts, to see beneath the surface, to open ourselves to a deeper dimension of reality, in order to really see. To dream that nations can resolve conflicts without war: That in spite of scandals of sexual abuse by clergy, and then cover-ups by bishops, the Spirit is at work in the Catholic Christian community. To see that the way to the fullness of life is not the result of trying to get all you can, but comes from fidelity, selflessness, and care of others. That what we see is only the surface, and reality is much, much deeper.
Specifically, we are called to look beyond the surface reality of a new-born baby, to see the Glory of God's LOVE shining resplendent in the Christ Child.
Our friends the magi have yet another title, one that fits them better, the WISE MEN. Because for all their mystic flakiness - they were wise enough to look beyond the mere facts - to peer into what was really happening - to follow their faith and hope - and so they came to the Christ Child.
King Herod, for all his accomplishments - was not great. He was a FOOL, because he missed the whole purpose and meaning of life.
We are now called to be wise - to follow the Star of Faith - to bring along the gift of ourselves - to seek, to find, and to adore, The radiant splendor of the Father's Glory,
The Word made Flesh, Jesus the Christ!
KEEP EPIPHANY WIERD! AMEN.