EPIPHANY OF THE LORD: SEARCHING LIKE THE MAGI
The solemnity of the Epiphany explains the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles and to the world. Strange elements in the gospel help to communicate the reality of God’s existence. We see the Magi who visit from a far distance, the star that leads them, and their special gifts to the infant Jesus. The Magi speak clearly about their mission in Jerusalem, “We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage” (Matt. 2:2-3). King Herod, on the other hand, is troubled, feels threatened, and panics on hearing that a new king is born. He summons his cabinet and conducts a series of interviews to know about this new king. Herod’s intention is to do away with the infant-king but he pretends to be excited. Mischievously, he tells the Magi, “Go and search for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” But the angel minister to the Magi and lead them home by a different route.
We can ask the following questions from the gospel of today regarding the epiphany of Christ: Why do the pagan wise men go in search of the prophesied King of the Jews? Why do they see the star that others are unable to see? Why give gifts to the infant Jesus?
We don’t know a lot about the wise men. The number three is surmised due to the three gifts. First, it is good to understand that the Magi were certainly not common men, rather men of great learning. The word Magi comes from the Greek word 'magos' (where the English word 'magic' comes from). The word Magi derives from the title given to priests in a sect of the ancient Persian religions such as Zoroastrianism, what today would be called astrologers. The magi would have studied the patterns of the stars. The Jewish people were dispersed throughout the world so they had heard of the prophesied Jewish messiah to be born. These pagan astronomers viewed this star as a sign from God or a higher power as they understood it. They could have ignored the star. They could have rejected the sign but they were looking for God. They were trying to find Him. There had to be other astrologers who saw the light but didn’t follow it. The wise men made the decision to go in search of God. Through the Magi, we learn that faith is an investment that demands sacrifice. They were foreigners, pagans, gentiles, in search of the newborn King of the Jews. This is the beauty of the story.
The question is, “Do you actively search for God in your life? Are you closer to God by your search? Do the events, activities, and actions that you engage in make you feel like your prayer life is getting deeper and drawing you closer to Him? In the spiritual life, if you aren’t moving forward, you’re actually moving backward. There’s no neutral ground. You’re either moving closer to God or moving farther away from Him. You are either like the Magi moving closer or Herod getting farther away. Do you recognize the magnificent real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Eucharist? The Jesus on this altar is the same Jesus who dwelled in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the same Jesus that the shepherds went in haste to see, and the same Jesus that the wise men traveled hundreds of miles to adore. When you bend your knees at mass, you bend them to the same Jesus. Unfortunately, to some, it might just be a symbol. But it’s not a symbol. It’s God Himself. St Padre Pio said, “It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.” Many people come to mass but not everyone recognizes Jesus. Do you recognize Him? The disciples on the road to Emmaus said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" (Lk. 24:32). Does your soul burn for the Blessed Eucharist?
The revelation of the stars to the Magi represents the mystery of God’s revelation to his chosen ones. The Magi see the star which Herod is unable to see. They had seen an unusual new star in the sky and knew that it told of the birth of a special king in Israel. No one is completely sure of what the new star in the sky was, and we have many theories about it including comets, supernovas, a conjunction of planets, or something supernatural! But the Magi would have heard about the coming of the special Jewish Messiah which is why they said, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” God is not seen by the proud and the arrogant represented in this story by Herod the Great. Remember that his son, Herod Antipas, longed to see Jesus but couldn’t. His arrogance and pride shut him out. Eventually, he had the opportunity at the time they brought Jesus to him for judgment as Scripture remarks, “When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased because for a long time he had been wanting to see him.” Mary sings, “He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Lk. 1:51-52).
However, God’s signs are visible even in the dark. The Magi’s star radiates in the silence of the night leading them to the divine encounter with the infant King. The Magi come to Jesus by the aid of the star because, in Jesus, every created thing in heaven and on earth converge. God does not contradict science, rather He is the reason for scientific innovations. God defines every star in both astronomy and astrology. To claim to be atheist or agnostic is to lack an understanding of the origin of the universe. It is the proof of ignorance about the source of existence of reality, for which the Psalm says, Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good!” (14:1) God determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name (Ps. 147:4). God’s star illumines both the cosmic darkness and the darkness of our souls. The Magi follow diligently the lead provided by Jesus. They discover their star by humility, persistence, and focus. Simplicity of heart and constancy in seeking God’s will keep our stars visible and aglow. Pride and arrogance quench the star in us.
Finally, the Magi offer the infant king great gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts express Christ’s kingship (Gold), his priesthood (frankincense), and the sacrificial nature of Christ’s death (myrrh). The visitors make huge donations to the infant-king. They are from the Gentile territory, yet they embrace Christ’s priestly and kingly mission to die for mankind. That is what Epiphany communicates, Christ is the king of the universe just as Simeon sang in his canticle, “A light to bring the Gentiles from darkness; the glory of your people Israel” (Lk. 2:32).
The prophet Isaiah prophesied that “Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord” (Is. 60:6). By the visit of the Magi, the gentiles become coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Eph. 3:6). As we start the new year, it will be great to think about the ways to show our commitment to the search for Jesus. How can we follow His star? Think about spending extra time in visits to the Blessed Sacrament, increasing your devotion to the Eucharist by attending daily mass more often, or going to Confession more than you did last year. We may not have gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh like the Magi, but we can become gifts ourselves by engaging more in the search for Jesus.