January 6 is the day we celebrate Epiphany, the revelation of God Incarnate in Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of the journey of the Magi seeking a newborn king and worshipping a humble baby in Bethlehem. Who were the Magi?
We know little about the Magi. The Gospel makes it clear that they came from the east, which may have referred to Persia, Syria, or perhaps Arabia. What is clear is that they were from a foreign land, not belonging to the Jewish people. Wherever they came from, it is likely their journey was a long and difficult one.
Sometimes the Magi are referred to as kings, and though it is unlikely they were rulers, we usually think of them as distinguished and powerful. We also often refer to them as wise men, and think of them as learned. The Magi may have belonged to a priestly caste known for interpreting dreams and the motion of the stars and planets. They were seekers of wisdom, whether from studying nature, holy reading, or visions.
Matthew begins the story of the Magi with their arrival in Jerusalem, where they ask everyone they meet where they can find the child who was born King of the Jews. The Magi explained that they had seen a star rising, and had come to pay homage to the child. With all their learning, they knew that they did not have all the answers. Having seen the star, they knew enough to connect its appearance with a prophecy they had heard about the Jewish people, which is why they went to Jerusalem.
King Herod, after hearing about the Magi’s questions, was afraid and consulted with the scribes to ask about the prophecies. He secretly summoned the Magi, and advised them to go to Bethlehem to look for the child, asking them to send word to him, so that he too, could come and worship him.
Grateful for knowing where to look, Magi resumed their journey, following the star until they saw where the star stopped. Overwhelmed with joy, they entered the house and saw the child with Mary, his mother. They knelt down and worshipped the child, offering gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense.
The last part of the story is cryptic. Matthew tells us that the Magi were warned in a dream to not return to Herod with news about the child. That must have been quite a dream! No doubt, Herod had pretended to be a really nice guy, sincere in his desire to worship the child. Whether or not the Magi ever knew of Herod’s true intention to harm the child, the Magi had lived lives of discernment. They paid attention to the warning and journeyed back to their home in the east by another road.
Invitations of Magi:
The Magi set out on a difficult and long journey, hoping to find a newborn king. They were willing to be guided by a star. Reflect on your own journey. What do you hope for? What do you seek? Reflect on the “star” guides you.
The Magi were learned, and spent their lives seeking wisdom in nature, in scripture, and in dreams. Yet they knew that they did not have all the answers, and were ready to ask questions. Reflect on the ways in which you seek wisdom. Are you ready to admit that you do not have all the answers? How and to whom are you ready to ask questions?
The Magi recognized God in a humble little child. Clearly they had eyes to see beyond simple appearances. Reflect on how you see and recognize God in an unexpected place or person.
The Magi were discerning. They heeded the dream’s warning. Reflect on how discernment works in your life. Are you willing to listen, pay attention, and follow through?
The Magi were from a foreign land. Reflect on what you can learn from people who are different from you.