The story of the Magi is replete with intriguing details that give have far-reaching spiritual consequences. Let’s examine a few of them.
First of all, they see and recognise the star. It seems they were the only ones to do so in the whole world. Others saw the star, no doubt, and noted its singularity, but did not act on it. No surprise. Going to find this newborn king would require a long, uncomfortable journey to a foreign land. So many are not saved for the simple reason that they refuse to make any efforts to get out of their comfortable lethargy to go and find the truth. They never find Jesus, because their will and their comfort comes first.
The star leads the Magi to the Holy Land, but curiously not directly to Bethlehem. It could have. Perhaps it did, but they went to Jerusalem anyway, thinking that this is the city of the great king. Perhaps they missed a key moment of discernment and just assumed the Jerusalem was the way to go. Perhaps also the star did lead them directly to Jerusalem. In any event, their arrival in Jerusalem, along with the announcement of why they have come, throws the usurper King Herod, and what is more astonishing, the priests and scribe,s into consternation. Herod had every reason to fear the great king messiah, but the Jews had been waiting for him for millennia. And yet, when he comes, those in charge of the faith are afraid of losing their positions of power.
Nevertheless, God rewards the sincerity of the Magi and gives them the answer, the final key to the puzzle. Even though they were manifestly aware of the prophecy of Balaam in the book of Numbers about the star that would rise out of Jacob, they were not aware of that of Micah about the precise place of the birth of the Messiah, in Bethlehem of Judea. God always guides those who seek Him with a pure and undivided heart, and He does so even through men who have no interest in going themselves, of men who themselves will be reprobate. God uses these for the salvation of the elect. So it is that God guides us through superiors, both civil and religious, in spite of their evil intentions and sins. Clearly Herod and the priests, not only had no intention of going to worship the newborn Messiah, but every intention of getting rid of Him. St Jerome deduces this from the fact that when the angel orders Joseph to return to Israel from Egypt, he says that “those who sought the boy’s life are dead”, that is to say, there was not just Herod, but apparently also at least some of the priests. These evil men are used by God to lead the Magi to Bethlehem. It is an important lesson for us. Whatever might be the faults and even the depraved intentions of those who have power over us, God uses them to achieve His ends, that is, our sanctification. Psalm 2 tells us that the Almighty laughs at evildoers from on high. It is easy for Him to outsmart them and turn their evil machinations into grace and victory for His chosen ones.
Having persevered through the ordeal of Jerusalem, the Magi are now filled with an overflowing delight and joy as the star leads them straight to the house of the Holy Family in Bethlehem. So it is that when we persevere through moments of darkness and desolation, our heart is once again filled with joy, for as the Imitation of Christ so eloquently says: after the night comes the dawn, after the winter comes spring, after the storm follows a great calm.
The Magi, says St Matthew, prostrate themselves on the floor before the Infant God, that is to say, they throw themselves on the ground and worship Him as God. No doubt, Our Lord Himself gave them a special grace at that moment to understand that He was not just a great King, but the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Their act is one of latria, adoration of the Divine Majesty.
They offer Him gifts. One should never appear before the Lord empty-handed. One should bring offerings of love, offerings of devotion, offerings of good works. They need not be anything out of the ordinary, but they do need to have the qualities that the gold, frankincense and myrrh symbolise, namely love, devotion and self-denial.
After they have fulfilled their mission, the Magi return home, but by another path, giving us to understand that once you have met Christ, you never go back the same. You are changed for good.
What then shall we offer Our Blessed Lord this year? What change shall we make to happen in our lives? May the three holy kings Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior, honoured as martyrs by the Church, obtain for us the grace to imitate their generosity and love, perhaps even to the point of shedding our own blood for Christ as they did. No better gift could we offer the Infant God, and no better way of bearing witness to His sovereign domain over each of us. In life and in death, may we be always guided by the star of truth to the one who is the Truth, Jesus Christ Our Lord, who, as today’s Gospel stresses, is always found in company with Mary His Mother.