WE CELEBRATED the Feast of the Three Kings on January 6 and the Feast of the Black Nazarene on January 9.

There is a parallel between these two feasts, a parallel of faith. Our Christian faith challenges us in many different ways. Evangelist Matthew in Mt. 2: 1-11 tells the story of the Three Kings, the Magi who came from a distant country in the East and brought expensive gifts of gold, incense and myrrh to the newborn Christ Child in Bethlehem.

On the other hand, St. Luke gives the Nativity story (Lk. 2:8-20) where Jesus was born in the stable of Bethlehem surrounded by poor shepherds from the country side. They didn’t bring any gifts to the manger but only themselves. These are two different kinds of people far apart from each other in many respects, economically and religiously.

The Magi are Gentiles, non-Jews, who were wise men, astronomers who were guided by a strange star that brought them to the place where the Child was born. The shepherds were poor Jews and they were informed by a horde of Angels about the birth of their Savior. Though poor, they had some knowledge about the history of salvation that is expressed in the Scriptures. Religiously speaking, they are marginalized people. But both the Magi and the shepherds stand together, in the sense that they respond to the call of faith in the Almighty God.

Ordinarily, when we read these stories in the Bible they sound kind of romantic, like so many other stories in the Bible do. We read them out of context, they sound unrealistic but when you read them more slowly and reflect deeper on them you will find out that it carries a message, even for us today. The Feast of the Three Kings is called in the liturgy of the Church: Epiphany. This is a Greek word that means manifestation, appearance. Epiphany is the appearance of the Word of God, the Light of the world, a Light for all nations, Christians and non-Christians alike. That is the deeper meaning of the Feast of Three Kings. God revealed Himself as the Light of the world.

If we look at our society today in the Philippines, the only Christian nation in the East, there is a big contradiction that arises from a failure to understand faith as a philosophy of life or as a practical and meaningful guide to daily living. There is so much greed, hatred, corruption and selfishness among our people, especially our lawmakers.

Going back to the Feast of the Black Nazarene we can see the same parallel, a parallel of faith. There is a tremendous devotion among Filipinos for the Black Nazarene. If we distance ourselves for a while from the fact that this statue is black, this is Jesus of Nazareth carrying his cross to Calvary. There is a tremendous faith among Filipinos for this Jesus of Nazareth, a mass display of intense faith, devotees of the Black Nazarene redeem a personal promise (panata) they make with God.

Personally I am not so inclined to this kind of devotion, touching and striking over religious objects, and I see a lot of fanaticism and idolatry in this devotion. But I must admit there is a tremendous faith in the Filipino and I must accept the fact that this has become part of Filipino culture.

I do have a great respect for this kind of devotion, like I have respect also for the devotion to the Virgin of the Miraculous Medal or the Virgin of the Immaculate Concepcion. But as Christians we must put our faith also into practice. Then we may expect miracles to happen in us and around us.

(Email: nolvanvugt@gmail.com)