Strolling around Madrid, seeing its streets decorated for Christmas, the kids excited about the big holiday, and listening to all the racket that the city creates, I immersed myself in this sublime celebration of the birth of Jesus in the little town of Bethlehem, year one first century.
On the 25th of March angel Gabriel said to Mary (the Annunciation, Luke 1:26-38):
Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: And the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34
As Mary was a virgin, she obviously had to ask how she could possibly conceive and Gabriel responded: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the highest will overshadow you (Luke 1:35).”
When Herod, king of Judea, heard about the birth of the Son of God, he sent his army out to kill all two year old children or younger. But he would be spared.
The Scriptures (Mathew 2:1, New International Version) say: ““After Jesus (Yeshúa in Aramaic which, in Jesus´ mother ´s tongue, means Savior) was born in Bethlehem in Judea, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’”
It is said that the Magi were priests of the Zarathustra religion. In the expedition there were more than three Majusian, wise men, astrologers and a big entourage.
The journey must have had a religious meaning or else they would not have gone through all the difficulties and dangers of the long arduous route.
A star, a comet, an astrological event coincided with the coming of the Messiah. It was like a heavenly bolt lit all the sky to receive the Savior. It took the Magi a long time to find Jesus and when they finally did he must have been older. They lavished offerings of gold, frankincense and mirth on him.
This boy, who ran around the mountainous slopes of Nazareth made golden by ripening cereals, would observe the palm trees that swayed in the mild Mediterranean breeze. He would take shelter under the fig trees and pomegranate and walnut trees while “abba” his father watched in amazement. Yeshúa wasn´t unaware of the terrible suffering of the people under the harsh rules of Herod and his son Antipas.
As Galilee was mostly agrarian so the majority of its inhabitants were poor peasants who worked the land with antiquated methods and a few animals. The privileged minority, who lived in the cities of Sefaris and Tiberias, worked in the government administration, some of whom were merciless tax collectors. This conduct impoverished the poor even more, to the extent that some ended up offering themselves to slavery. Others sold their daughters as prostitutes. Still others turned into bandits. Families, whose main concern was unity, were dispersed.
Jesus, unable to bear the cruelty of the Roman Empire and its thugs, the religious crisis and the rupture of the Alliance, left his family and his work as a craftsman. He went deep into the desert where he encountered God. This marked a new start for him.
Fascinated by the beliefs of John the Baptist whom he met in the desert, Jesus followed him, was baptized by him and after John’s death, which affected him deeply, he started preaching his own creed which shook the foundations of the then prevailing civilization. Jesus’ teachings and the religion that sprang from them spread far and wide down the centuries. Today some 2.5 billion people make up Christendom, with Roman Catholicism as the largest Christian denomination (1.2 billion faithfuls).
It’s been two thousand years but Catholic countries still remember, and happily too, the Magi who journeyed to Jerusalem to worship the Son of God.
In Spain, as in many Latin American countries, the Magi (a.k.a. The Three Wise Men, Three Kings of the Orient, etc.) are honored on Epiphany, the 6th of January, following the twelve days of Christmas. It is a most exciting day for the children who will have written asking Their Majesties for gifts who will naturally oblige them if they have been good during the year. Otherwise they get carbón, literally charcoal but is really unattractive candy that resembles charcoal – not gifts.
Previously, on the eve of Epiphany, children watch wide-eyed as the Reyes parade in all their splendor, mesmerized by the magic of it, at the Cabalgata de los Reyes (the Kings’ Cavalcade), a fabulous extravaganza worthy of the “royal” biblical personages. (Click to see a Cavalcade in Madrid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-zr9GE5uPw.)
The Three Kings are the exotic equivalent of Santa Claus.
Another Spanish Reyes tradition is the roscón, a ring-shape cake usually eaten on or the eve of Epiphany when the children will be opening their gifts. Somewhere in the cake the figurine of Baby Jesus is hidden. This represents the flight of Jesus from Herod’s evil plan to kill all babies in order to get rid of the prophesied messiah.
Custom says that he who finds the figurine in his piece of the cake will be blessed. He must take the figurine to the nearest church on Candlemas Day (Día de la Candelaria) which is 2nd of February.
Featured image by Andy One, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Flickr
Cabalgata de Reyes Magos, Cadiz, byemijrp. Used here under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.
Roscón by Tamorlan, used under the Creative Commons Attribution – Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
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