The Epiphany of the Lord
Who were the magi? In this narrative, they were travelers – pilgrims, seekers. More generally, magi were scientists, studying the stars and looking for meaning in life from their study. The gospel says they found “his star” and followed it right to “the place where the child was.”
Through the centuries, the social status of these magi rose. They turned into kings, as in one of my favorite Christmas-time songs, “These Three Kings.” The gospel does not tell us how many magi there were, but as they brought three gifts, (so the thinking goes) there must have been three. They were named, or their names were uncovered, in the sixth century. When young, I smiled when I learned that one of them was Casper. The magi brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh – all precious gifts to this child born in poverty and, tradition tells us, symbols pointing to his destiny. Perhaps this act is at the root of our Christmas gift-giving.
The magi were not Jews, but they were helped by Jews. Indeed, it was King Herod, though “troubled” by the words of these scientist travelers, that directed them to Bethlehem. When they found the child, the magi “prostrated themselves and did him homage.” Unbelievers believing – like their gifts, their actions were symbolic of greater truths. The reading today ends, “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.”
During the days of Christmas, we, in our own ways, prostrate and give homage to this child, this king. We know that even in our simple gift-giving we touch on deeper truths and they touch us. Then, after the long journey, it is over. We go home – back to ordinary time. But if we liken ourselves to the magi and have followed the star and humbled ourselves before the child and gave gifts, we cannot but -- go home “by another way.”
Dr. Bernard Brady