According to the story, three kings from lands to the east learned of the birth of a newborn king, the Child Jesus. Not only were they kings but the three were also wise men. They were powerful and wise and so impressed by what they learned about the newborn king that they set out on a long and possibly dangerous journey to honor him.

Their visit was full of symbolism.

Kings in their own lands, they were accustomed to being honored by people and to receiving gifts as a sign of respect. They must have considered Jesus to be a king of kings or they never would have set out on a long journey to pay homage to a newborn child.

As kings in their own lands, to show such respect to a newborn child would have been a humbling experience and a clear statement of the respect they believed was due to Jesus.

The kings came bearing gifts. As kings in their own lands, they could afford the finest things money could buy so the gifts they brought to Jesus were gifts fit for a king. They set out to find Jesus to give honor and praise to Him who had come to fulfill the prophecies. The gifts they brought were only one of the ways in which the kings meant to honor Jesus.

If someone unfamiliar with the meaning of Christmas compared how much time we spend buying Christmas gifts to how much time we spend remembering the mystery of Christ’s birth, she or he might conclude that the central message of Christmas is the giving of gifts. Should this person watch how we prepare for Christmas, she or he might also conclude that the coming of Jesus plays only a minor role in the celebration and that the over the years, the focus of Christmas had shifted from praising and honoring Jesus to a season of exchanging material things.

The tradition of giving gifts at Christmas time comes from the example of the three kings. If the Wise Men had not brought gifts to Jesus, the tradition of gift giving at Christmas time may never have started. If the Kings had not brought Jesus gifts that first Christmas, we might celebrate Christmas in a more spiritual, less materialistic manner. The next time you are waiting in a long line to buy a Christmas present or stressing out over how to pay for everything, blame it on the Magi.

Or perhaps change the way you celebrate the coming of Christ.

Celebrate next Christmas quietly as the three kings did. Put the worship of Jesus at the center of the celebration. Focus on the mystery of Jesus taking on a human form. Honor Jesus and return the giving of gifts to its original place as but one way to celebrate the coming of Christ.

May the New Year bring peace on earth!