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The Three Kings – When God Thinks Out of the Box

Isaiah 60:1-6;   Matthew 2:1-12

For millions of children around the world –including a fairly good number of Hispanic kids in the U.S. — yesterday, January 6, was one of the most expected and exciting days of the year. As exciting as their own birthdays and Christmas. And do you know why? Because it was the Festival of the Three Kings – Tres Reyes,” in Spanish.

If Santa a few days before was such a big deal, imagine Three Kings, when not one, not two, rather three gift-givers show up in the night with our kids’ most wanted presents. What a great day it was for me and my brothers, and all our friends around the block.

Even though January 6 was hot summertime in Argentina, we kept our bedroom windows wide open –for the three kings from the “Orient.” They would stop by while we were sleeping and drop the toys we had and prayed for months. Better stuff that what Santa could bring us a few days earlier. It goes without saying — we didn’t care at all for gold, myrrh, and frankincense! We just wanted more and bigger toys.


Our Gospel story brings us full circle to some ancient Biblical traditions to celebrate the arrival of the Son of God. We heard prophet Isaiah speak about a magnificent gathering of multitudes of joyful people and caravans of “young” camels from far away “bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.”

Both for Isaiah, and centuries later for Matthew, those caravans of camels from far away represent God’s decision to reveal his own Son to all the nations. Here in the Gospels, and up until the visit by the three kings – also described as wise men, and even magi — the birth of Jesus had been a rather “local” event, something of paramount importance, but just for Israel.

Now, and because of these most unexpected visitors from far away, Bethlehem has suddenly became global. Emmanuel — God with us –, no longer confined to a tiny place in the planet, now unleashed for the whole world to see.


And when three kings return to their homeland –the so-called lands of the Gentiles, or non-Jewish—the Bethlehem “secret” ceases to be a secret. Wherever they go, they will witness to what they have seen right there where the star stopped –over the manger. The Gospel described this event with the Greek word epiphany, which means revelation, manifestation, unveiling.

As far as I remember, we kids didn’t care at all about all this theological stuff. All we cared was that because the three kings had made babe Jesus so happy with their presents, on their way back home they decided that every year they would go around the world very much like Santa does a few days earlier to bring presents to all the kids.

I’ll never forget our preparations for such a day! The night before we would shine our best shoes to perfection and place them by our beds. Next to our shining shoes, a generous snack for the camels – fresh grass on a dish, a bowl with fresh water, and salt. And the following morning – Epiphany Day – we would wake up, find our favorite presents right there by our shoes –all the water and all the grass and al the salt gone for good!


Friends, sometimes I feel like that something quite beautiful, inspiring may be missing from our Christmas’s season around here. Believe it or not, in the early church Epiphany – or Three Kings — was second only to Easter in its importance. The third great feast was Pentecost, another day that has drifted into religious backwaters. Incidentally, nobody even thought about celebrating Christmas until the fourth century!

So, “how come we don’t celebrate Epiphany anymore? As we just pointed out, the first generations of Christians associated the three kings with the unveiling or revelation of Jesus the Christ to all the nations. Later, the Three Kings, the wedding at Cana, and the Baptism of Jesus were all lumped together to symbolize the extraordinary revelation of God in Jesus Christ, and such revelation was cause for great celebration.

Those signs – and many others afterwards — were God’s way of saying, “Hey, everyone, this is the chosen one”, and so Epiphany was the church’s way of saying, “And we can never be the same again.”

But Epiphany also aimed at reminding men and women of faith that God keeps appearing to us, and quite often in unsuspected places and ways. And for that reason, an invitation to keep open our spiritual windows and doors as we look for the signs of God’s presence all around us each and every day.

At this precise moment, for instance, we should be able to feel God’s presence in our midst as we worship and partake together, yet God is also revealing himself in the trees and the ocean and the sky, the geese, and the squirrels.

God reveals himself in the delivery room and the funeral home. In the face of the “illegal” immigrant who is cleaning our home or worshiping here with us this morning. God may just be sitting beside us in the pew or might call on the phone this afternoon. We all meet God in different ways and at different times and places in our lives. For God is always unveiling a new secret about him and about us.


Friends, this season of Epiphany than opens today with the Three Kings was meant to remind us that God is not yet done, dried out, and stuffed in our Bibles, our traditions, and our rituals. On the contrary, God is alive and well, always revealing a little bit more every day and everywhere in the hopes that our faith may be strengthened as we follow our own stars with the same sense of trust and determination the three kings followed theirs.


You may remember that catchy expression made popular in the 80s and 90s in so many different situations, from the workplace to school, even among church leaders – “to think outside the box”. For instance, “My manager wants u to think out of the box for ways to get new clients.”

Or this one, “Her ability to think outside the box is why she ends up reporting on the most diverse topics.”

And what about this? — “Our bishop encouraged us to think out of the box so that we start paying attention to what the unchurched have to tell us.”

And so forth.

The whole point of thinking outside the box is not to feel limited by what has been the norm. Rather, to use our imagination to think of something in a different, unusual, creative way. And not only to find “solutions” to real problems. Also, to find excitement in all we do.

Thus, today I wonder, isn’t Epiphany – actually, any revealing moment of God—God’s way of thinking out of the box. . . Of showing to us, in some compelling, “down-to-earth” manner us how much she cares for us and for the entire creation? Of telling and retelling what a big difference we can make by welcoming such a love? That humble, stinky manger, for instance, somewhere in the insignificant town of Bethlehem – God with us!

Those three anonymous wise men from lands far away, for instance – how they became a blessing to others the moment they dared follow the star? This hour, in this tiny and cozy sanctuary, for instance, where once again we gather to partake of this bread and this cup.

See what happens, how much can it happen if we just let it “happen”! Thanks be given to God for all her revelations, for the endless signs of his loving presence in our midst. For we can’t ever be the same again.