Magi (Wise Men).
having heard the king,
went their way;
which they saw in the east,
went before them,
till it came and stood over where the young child was.
And when they saw the star,
they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
And they came into the house and saw the young child with Mary his mother;
and they fell down and worshipped him;
and opening their treasures they offered unto him gifts,
gold and frankincense and myrrh.
And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod,
they departed into their own country another way.
Matthew 2:9-12 RV
Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, the day when the world recognises Jesus as the Christ.
Well, sort of.
To the non-Christian, this story is Christmas. In fact the Three Wise Men are probably more well known than the Shepherds. Where Luke gave us locals and angels, Matthew gives us exotic foreigners. It is interesting that many would regard them as integral to Christmas Day, yet it is clear that they come along later.
It is to be noted that no where is it mentioned "Three Wise Men". This is an apocryphal addition which has stuck with us. I guess the fact that there were three gifts would lead many to assume there were three gift bearers.
Christianity grew to like these men so much that by the Middle Ages they were given names and histories, yet Matthew only tells us they were wise and from the east. We can make an assumption that they were astronomers, watching the sky for signs of major events. In those days the arts of astronomy and astrology were not yet seperated.
The fact that these men travelled a long distance to see the infant Jesus is a way of telling us of his importance to people other than Jews. These men wanted to see the new born King of the Jews, yet they were (likely) from Persia. They make the trek to Bethlehem, worship Jesus, and trek back, presumably telling their fellow countrymen of what they had witnessed.
I have to admit I am not a huge fan of this story. It doesn't grab me, but I can accept it's theological value: that Jesus was not the King of the Jews, he was the King of all people. People will find Jesus by many different paths, from many different backgrounds, in this case eastern astrologers. However we come to find Christ, the path we found Him by will be of use to explain Him to others