Today Catholic Christians celebrate the ancient Feast of the Epiphany, sometimes called “Little Christmas” or the “Feast of the Three Kings.”
In the Epiphany story, we hear of visitors from the East bringing Jesus three gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Traditionally, many Church leaders have said the gold represents the kingship of Jesus, the frankincense represents his divinity, and the myrrh represents his eventual death.
The news of the Christ Child’s birth greatly troubled King Herod and the government leaders, for the birth of a new king threatened their authority. Fortunately, however, the three wise men never went back to tell the emperor where the newborn Messiah was, for they received a dream telling them to avoid going back to King Herod.
What makes this feast so special is that the Messiah – Jesus – has come for all people, not just the Hebrew people. For us, the idea that Jesus if for all people is no big news, but people in the time Jesus was born, the Hebrew people thought the Messiah would be exclusively for them.
In many parts of the world, especially in predominately Catholic nations that speak Spanish, the three wise men bring children presents on this feast day. That is what we see in the following story.
The story begins in Madrid, Spain during the winter of 1963. Ten-year old Barbara and her four-year old brother Santiago had come to Spain from Cuba after the Cuban revolution. They were waiting in Madrid until their United States residency could come through.
The two children were very poor. The only support they received was from their maternal grandfather and an uncle in New York City who sent them a small monthly stipend for lodging. The only meals they had were from a soup kitchen where they lined up with other Cuban refugees in late mornings.
The winter that they were in Madrid was bitterly cold. Their room was freezing during the day, so Barbara and Santiago would spend their days walking the streets of Madrid looking at the magnificent boulevards. The beautiful architecture and plazas enchanted them, and the snow amazed them, for it was the first time they had ever encountered snow.
Although they longed for their homeland, they looked forward to one day coming to the United States.
As the Christmas season arrived, they loved looking at the beautiful Christmas lights and trees and store windows. Little Santiago was especially fascinated by one department store window that had a Christmas village with a shiny red train that circled the town, hooting its horn at every turn.
Santiago, who had been born during the first year of the Cuban Revolution, had never seen such toys. He wondered, however, if maybe one-day los tres magos – three wise men – would bring him a toy. His sister – whom he called Babby – told him that probably he would not get any toys that year, for the three wise men probably didn’t have their address in Madrid. However, she said, perhaps once they were able to live in the United States, the three wise men would probably find them once again. Little Santiago accepted the explanation without question.
A year later, Barbara and Santiago were settled in the United States – in Union City, New Jersey to be specific – with their parents. Their parents, trained as a teacher and an engineer, both worked in factory jobs. Barbara and Santiago began school and quickly learned English as children do.
That Christmas morning, when the children woke up, they were astonished to see so many presents under the Christmas tree. For Barbara, the highlight of Christmas morning was watching little Santiago open a square box with a large red bow on top.
Inside the box was a shiny, brand-new train! The locomotive and caboose resembled the one they had seen the year before in Madrid. Santiago’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. He looked at his parents and his sister, his eyes filled with happiness and surprise.
And, little Santiago put two and two together and proclaimed to his sister, “Babby, you were right! The three wise men found our address, and they gave it to Santa Claus!”
This certainly is a beautiful Epiphany story, for it so clearly shows faith, love, giving, receiving, and joy.
Epiphany is a feast of rejoicing, and of giving our hearts to Jesus. Jesus does not want gold, frankincense, and myrrh. He wants our faith and our love, and he wants us to show this faith and love by serving others who have so little in this world. Our recent Scripture passages have been talking about this very thing, how we are to show our love and live our faith by serving the God by serving others.
On this feast of the Epiphany, it would be a good idea to reflect on how we give drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, and food to the hungry. It would good to reflect on how we welcome the stranger, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned. It would be good to reflect on how we instruct the ignorant and console those in sorrow.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Feast of the Epiphany, 2018.
Story source: Barbara Gutiérrez, “The Christmas Train,” in Jack Canfield, Victor
Hansen, and Susan Sánchez-Casal (Eds.), Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul, Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 2005, pp. 198-200.