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The strangers' journey: We Three Kings

Author: Hannah Moyse, 17 December 2020

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We read about the journey of the wise men in Matthew 2, and their journey is the focus of this carol.

In Matthew 2.1 we see that ‘wise men came from the East’; there weren’t necessarily three of them, they weren’t necessarily from ‘the Orient’ and they weren’t necessarily kings. But what we do know about them is that they were from a land east of Judea; they were skilled in astrology, and so were quite possibly from a land where astrology was prevalent; and that the Bible refers to them as ‘magi’, which is the same word used in Daniel 2.2 to refer to the Babylonian astrologers. All this could indicate that they were from Babylon, the nation which had some 500 years previously held Israel in exile.

Wherever they were from, they were clearly rich enough to be able to bring valuable gifts. The song describes the meaning and significance of the gifts they bring:

  • Gold is used to symbolise that Jesus is ‘king forever / ceasing never.’ We learn that Jesus is the ‘King of Kings’ in Revelation 19.16
  • Frankincense symbolises ‘a deity nigh’ – as an incense, it would have been used for religious purposes, and therefore symbolises Jesus’ divinity
  • Myrrh is an embalming ingredient, and therefore foreshadows the ‘gathering gloom’ of Jesus’ death, which we can read about in Matthew 27.32–56. So, Jesus was ‘King and God and Sacrifice’

The significance of the role of the wise men in the biblical story is that it shows that strangers – men who are from a foreign land and unconnected with the promise of Israel (possibly even its previous enemies) – were able to recognise the importance of Jesus’ birth and make a journey to be there. This is a powerful message to anyone who feels estranged or unconnected to God. It shows that they too are welcome to share in the celebration.

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