Right now, all across Spain millions of wide-eyed children will be watching the three Reyes Magos, “Magi Kings” appear in the streets and begin their journey to deliver a nation of presents in one night. In the larger cities, they travel in majestic parade, escorted by dozens of elaborately decorated floats. In Barcelona, 10 tonnes of sweets will be distributed along with other goodies along the 5 short kilometres of their meanderings through the city centre. That’s 2kg every metre… They make a more modest entrance in most towns, though even our own town of Zafra has risen to real camels on a couple of occasions. Fun guaranteed for all the family, but do watch out for flying candy.
Even though Father Christmas is making headway in Spanish culture, 95% of presents still come courtesy of the three “wise men”. Santa Claus is relegated to a decorative figure, with little real authority when it comes to who is given what or when. Whatever the relative merits of each, logistically the kings must have a much easier job than Father Christmas – there are three of them, for a start, plus whatever pages the local council will have been able to afford this year. And then, as apart from a couple of Latin American countries the rest of the world seems to prefer that red-robed jolly Saint Niklaus, a Nordic intruder into the Christmas story, rather than the original present bearing kings, they really only have to do Spain itself, a mere 15 million or so households. In Spain, Christmas is supposed to be about the baby Jesus, and presents come from the hands of these oriental monarchs twelve days later. End of story.
The kings have names too. The Bible talks of astrologers, not monarchs, and doesn’t even tell us how many there were, much less their names. But still, in accordance with the number of gifts they bore, ancient tradition says there were three: Balthasar, Gaspar and Melchior. In southern Germany and Austria, Sternsinger – groups of three children singing Christmas carols – visit homes and chalk the initials of the kings on doors together with the year. At least, that is what they think they are doing, though C + M + B most probably has nothing to do with the three kings at all, having originated as Christus mansionem benedicat (may Christ bless this house”).
Enough of tradition. “All Scripture … is useful to teach us – God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work…” What does the visit of the three magi teach us? A bucket of stuff! But please allow me to highlight just one aspect of this singular event.
God stepped into human history in the Christ child, and somehow, the heavens gave witness to this event. On the other side of the known world, star-gazers saw enough to make them embark on a journey of discovery that culminated in worship, connecting them with the creator of the world revealed in human form before their very eyes. Who knows what they anticipated when they set out for an unknown destination. Who knows what they felt as they set foot in that humble Judean home, a million miles from the palaces of Jerusalem they had just visited. And who knows what they took back with them – and I don’t mean in the saddlebags – across the miles of desert as they returned home.
But they followed the clues that God allowed to drift into their world that would lead them to him. They took what they had – I am not sure how appropriate those gifts would have seemed to Mary and Joseph at the time, though the gold at least would have proved useful to pay for the one-way ticket to Egypt they would soon need – and set out on a journey of discovery. And as they went they picked up clues along the way, from Scripture and the starry world they knew, that led them inexorably to Jesus. Having found him, they worshiped.
Those who search do, in fact, find. As Pascal said: “[God] so regulates the knowledge of Himself that He has given signs of Himself, visible to those who seek Him, and not to those who seek Him not”. (See full quote below if you are interested.)
So follow the wise men. Pick up on those hints that God allows to enter your world that will take you to him. Take what you have, make the journey – an inner one, though sometimes outer pilgrimages can help us cover the inner distance better – and when you find him, worship. Bow before the maker of all things, come in human form. Pour our your all, give him what you have, and return to what life has given you, changed for all time and eternity.
Full quote from Pascal’s Thoughts. It was not then right that He should appear in a manner manifestly divine, and completely capable of convincing all men; but it was also not right that He should come in so hidden a manner that He could not be known by those who should sincerely seek Him. He has willed to make Himself quite recognisable by those; and thus, willing to appear openly to those who seek Him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from Him with all their heart, He so regulates the knowledge of Himself that He has given signs of Himself, visible to those who seek Him, and not to those who seek Him not. There is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition. (Section VII, 430.)