Pastoral Message – January 8, 2023
Today, we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. As we hear in the Gospel, this feast commemorates the day on which the Magi from the East came seeking the infant Jesus, to bring Him gifts, and to pay Him homage. The term “Magi” referred to learned (or “wise”) men who studied the stars (practicing what today we call astrology) and probably performed some types of magic. It is unlikely that the men were kings or that there were exactly three of them – there may have been as many as twelve. The gifts that they carried – gold, frankincense and myrrh – were significant because they reflected the reverence and humility with which the Magi approached this infant “king.” Gold represented wealth and power. Frankincense was a type of incense and perfume. Myrrh was often used in oil used for anointing kings, which is significant given that the Magi had come looking for the king of the Jews.
Matthew reports that they came seeking the birthplace of the “the newborn king of the Jews” which had been heralded by the prophets Isaiah and Micah more than 700 years earlier. Yet, when Jesus arrived in that manger in Bethlehem, neither the Jews, nor their leaders, nor their King understood the critical importance of His arrival. In fact, King Herod was “greatly troubled” because he was worried about whether Jesus would be a challenge to his power. Similarly, the chief priests and scribes of the people were – at best – ambivalent to Christ. Thus, the very people to whom Jesus was sent had no interest in recognizing the significance of His birth.
On the other hand, the Magi, who knew very little about the God of Israel, were spending a great deal of time and effort to actively seek Him. They were so intrigued by the appearance of the star that they left their homes and travelled a great distance to follow this remarkable sign to Jesus. What this proves is that, while the Magi did not know God, He knew them. In fact, while they were seeking Him, He was also seeking them. He placed a remarkable star in the winter sky precisely because the Magi studied the stars and would notice a new, very bright star. Initially, they likely had a very limited view of the star driven by their beliefs regarding the way that the stars could be used to predict the future or by the tradition that a new star appeared at the time of a ruler’s birth. But, as seekers, they did not stop there. They took the time to research Hebrew scripture to find hints about what this star might signify. They concluded that it told of the birth of a very special ruler as foretold by the prophet Micah and they were inspired to go to seek Him. The Magi opened themselves up to the unknown possibilities of following the star. Even though they didn’t know their ultimate destination, they were prepared to humble themselves and to invest their time and resources to take the journey.
But why would God reveal Himself to Gentile wise men from the East who didn’t know or believe in Him? Perhaps the introduction of non-Jewish seekers into the story of the birth of Jesus tells us that He brought salvation for all the world – not just for the Jews but also for the non-Jews; not just for the perfect and holy, but also for the flawed and sinful. The story of the Magi reminds us that God has revealed Himself to the whole world through the birth of His Son. He didn’t limit that revelation to only the “chosen people” or to those who are living a morally good life. God seeks EVERYONE. Like the Magi, we must also seek HIM and when we find Him, we must prostrate ourselves, do him homage, and open our treasures to Him.
In their visit to the newborn king, the Magi are transformed. Then, after their transformational visit, the Gospel passage says that they “departed for their country by another way.” As with many scripture passages, it has double meaning. They not only physically followed another road to their home, but they would be different men when they got home. They weren’t just following another way; they were now following THE WAY. How joyful they must have been to know THE WAY!
God seeks us just as He sought the Magi. The question is whether we are seeking God. Are we “overjoyed at seeing the star?” Do we have the inquiring spirit of the Magi? Do we have the humility of the Magi? Do we recognize God’s transformational presence in our lives? Like the Magi, we must be seekers – seekers of deeper relationships with God and others; seekers of the light of Jesus Christ; seekers of the truth of the Gospel; and, seekers of THE WAY to eternal life.
May God richly bless you throughout this new year!