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Monday, January 7, 2013

We Three Kings and Other Counting Issues

How many kings are there really in the Epiphany story?  Tradition prompts us to boldly say three. Emphatically, the story is about three kings!  After all, there is a song about it, “We Three Kings.”  However, if the answer is three, one would only be partly right.  There are actually five kings in this story!  The three kings, also known as the three wise men encounter King Herod on their way to find and deliver royal gifts to Jesus who is also the King of Kings; of course three plus two others makes five.

Interestingly, now factor in this new element that the story is actually about five kings and it becomes broader and richer in message and meaning.  For instance, because the original sin is pride: the evil one boasts to Adam and Eve “You will become like God” in the Garden of Eden.  The original sin of pride immerges as our first parents buy into egotism that originally got the devil kicked out of heaven in the first place.  Now in the Epiphany story, we see King Herod succumb to pride – his feelings are hurt; there may be another king around! And we also witness the resulting power and control that eventually leads him to kill hundreds of children.

The Epiphany story is also about the “pill”, the elixir, the cure for the original sin of pride – humility.  Instead of pride, power and wealth – the King of Kings is found lying in a lowly manger, in utter poverty because there was no room for him in the inn.  In the Epiphany story Jesus not only teaches through the Gospel writers, he also demonstrates in his own body what it takes to be a King, or for that matter to have power of any sort.  He comes to us poor, homeless, living among animals, empty, persecuted by the powerful, a migrant, an immigrant, despised and rejected.  Counter to human wisdom, he actually exhibits all the heavenly marks of a true king.

Ultimately, only the humble wise men could truly see the significance of who he is and what he is destined to accomplish in his lifetime.  Herod did not see or know it; that is because “God opposes the proud” the Bible tells us.  In the same respect God “Gives grace to the humble.”  Only the humble wise men could see God; and for that matter, the poor, dirty and homeless shepherds who were working in the fields some days earlier.

And so this is Christmas.  A time when we celebrate that God’s world is upside down, inside out, opposite and inconceivable to the mind of man.  We are reminded that being clothed in wealthy threads, riches and fortune, power and control, all prevent us from seeing the real Lord.  Christmas also reminds us that the poorest, broken, despised and persecuted among us may actually be the living saints among us too.  In the stories of Christmas and the Epiphany we encounter the true God of the Bible living up to his word when he spoke, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways.”  Isaiah 55:8
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