“We Have Seen His Star”
In some ways, the story of the Magi visiting Jesus at Bethlehem sums up the entire message of St. Matthew’s Gospel. While the Evangelist goes to great lengths in his genealogy to prove that Jesus came from a solid Jewish heritage, he also makes it clear that some of His ancestors were ‘foreigners’ and even unbelievers. The inclusion of ancestors from outside the ‘tribe’ is St. Matthew’s signal that God is not interested in racial purity based on the bloodlines of ‘chosen people’. In the Christmas Gospel [Matthew 2:1-12] we learn that the first people to recognize and pay homage to the Royal child Jesus were in fact pagan astrologers from the east, probably Persians or Arabs. They were guided by a star, God’s revelation in nature, not the Scriptures.
As they studied the stars, the Magi searched for the mysterious power lying beyond the heavens. For them, the star of Bethlehem meant that this unseen power was involved in human history. In the tradition of true pilgrims they set off from their homes in quest of the revelation that beckoned them. While the star was a sign from their own religious tradition, the Magi as they ‘sought diligently’ also consulted the Hebrew Scriptures to lead them to the Christ child.
St. Matthew says that when the visitors from the East saw the child Jesus, they bowed down in homage and ‘opened their treasures’. We imagine there were three Magi because of the three gifts they offered ‘gold, frankincense and myrrh’. I like to think there was a caravan of ‘wise men’ along with an entourage of women and children, the Gospel really doesn’t say one way or the other how many there were. When I set up my ‘crèche’ at home, I always include extra ‘kings’.
The Magi tell us something important about observing, searching and discovering. It’s interesting that the Gospel at the Christmas Liturgy is the story of the star gazers. If we want to hear the actual nativity account we need to be present at the Royal Hours and the Matins. Reading this Gospel at the Divine Liturgy is a subtle statement that anyone who truly seeks and is willing to undertake the journey will encounter the Christ who is God.
The Wise Men show us what it means to gaze upon God. Their divine encounter with a frail child was way beyond their expectation or any prior experience. Our own journey to Christ will surprise us as well. The story of the strangers' visit to Bethlehem illustrates the ongoing relationship God has with human beings as He lures us to share divine life. The star, the wise men, the journey, the searching, the manger, the new born child are all gentle initiatives drawing us closer to God. St. Matthew’s account shows us that God will use anything and everything to make Himself known to anyone anywhere at any time.
At Christmas, let us consider the Magi and join them on pilgrimage.
Blessings, Fr. +Timothy
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