January 8th, 2017
“behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.'”
Today we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany! Epiphany comes from a Greek word meaning “manifestation” or “appearance”. What “manifestation” are we talking about? Nothing less than the physical manifestation and appearance of God Himself in the flesh! The Church celebrates three specific instances in the Gospel where Christ was manifested in His divinity to the world: 1) the adoration of the Magi, 2) the Baptism of Our Lord in the Jordan, and 3) the changing of the water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. These are three times where we clearly see Christ manifested as God Our Savior. With the magi, we see the first revelation of Christ and His promised salvation to the Gentiles. With the Baptism, we see Christ the sinless lamb humbling Himself to consecrate the Sacrament of Baptism for us sinners. And with the wedding at Cana, we see Christ’s first miracle and the beginning of His public ministry cumulating with His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Today, I invite you to take time reflecting on these three revelations of Christ as King of the nations, as Savior through the cleansing waters of Baptism, and as eternal God at whose command even the laws of nature bend. I’ll offer a few thoughts on the magi here- I’m an archaeologist, so pardon the historical detail!…
Who were these magi from the east? Tradition identifies them by name as Caspar (an Indian scholar), Balthazar (a Babylonian scholar), and Melchior (a Persian scholar). What little is known about their lives is laden with pious mythology and local folk legends, making it difficult to know anything with the objectivity of scientific history. It is traditional to refer to them as “three kings”, based on Old Testament prophecies wherein foreign kings would come to worship the one true God of Israel. For example, in the non-canonical Acts of Thomas, Caspar is said to be the first Indo-Parthian king in the area around the ancient city of Taxila, Pakistan, where St. Thomas the Apostle later visited and proclaimed the Gospel. But whether or not they were kings, we do know that they were very important men of learning enjoying a high social status. Magi, or wise men, is a Greek term used for the priestly class of ancient Iran (Persia), scholars who devoted their lives to astronomical observations through which they sought to understand the will of the divine (i.e. they were Zoroastrian astrologers, pagans worshipping a sun god). What is so amazing about the magi, then, is that they appear in the Gospel at all! Think about it. Pagan astronomer-priests are hardly the ones you would expect to up and leave their observatories and all the comforts of a scholarly pension to journey hundreds of miles by caravan trail to see a baby in the backwater that was Roman Palestine! But they “saw His star at its rising”, i.e. they perceived something miraculous, something beyond themselves calling to their through their study of the universe, and what was their response? They sought Him out. The magi are, in my opinion, some of the most honest men of learning in history. As scholars and astronomers, they carefully sought to understand the nature of the universe, and thus the nature of God through the consideration of the created order (even if they didn’t know they were), not unlike the faithful scientists of today. They seem to have known from their diligent studies of creation that there was a Creator, and probably (like Aristotle) deduced that there was but one God who could call them to action. And their pagan religion failed to satisfy, just as secular materialism today fails to satisfy our deepest desires. They wanted to see the face of God in creation. In God’s mercy, they were given a sign in the sky they would recognize, but one they had to chose to follow. They did and for that, they were blest with the revelation of God incarnate! They actually saw Jesus Christ, the Logos, the eternal Word and Wisdom of God, in the flesh! The very pinnacle of human learning is summed up in the person of Jesus. Their response to the miracle of God’s revelation to them as Gentiles? They worshipped the Infant as the One True God! How humble these three scholars were! To bow down and pay homage to a helpless baby seems utterly ridiculous, perhaps beneath their dignity as men of learning and an act of blasphemy in their native faith. But they are the model of all Christians, especially all scholars, students and teachers alike. We must follow our studies objectively, questioning how they might point us to God, probing, seeking, and admitting when our path is not leading us to the truth. The magi recognized they had been wrong, they sought God, and they have the honor of being the first Gentiles to worship Jesus Christ! They offered Him gifts of homage as King of kings (gold), as God Himself (frankincense), and as atoning sacrifice (myrrh- an aloe for anointing the dead). Let us follow their noble example, then, and diligently seek Christ in our life and through out work, the fullness of all wisdom and truth and offer Him the gift of ourselves. For the lesson of the magi echoes as strongly today as it did 2,000 years ago: wise men seek Him still.
Saints Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior-pray for us!
Peer Mentor Director