The Story of the Magi
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim, Sj (The Freeman) - January 7, 2018 - 12:00am

The word “Epiphany” comes from the Greek word “Epiphaino,” which means “appearing,” a “manifesting,” a “shining forth” of something that was previously a secret or hidden.

Why has history and the Catholic liturgy applied this word to the story of the visit of the Magi to the newly born Jesus?  What was hidden?  What was the secret? What was made manifest for the first time? – Several things.

One was that the child born of Mary in Bethlehem was to be the Messiah, the Holy One long awaited by the Jews.  This was the centerpiece of the message upon which all else are connected.  But the story about the Magi traveling from distant lands to pay homage to the Lord unveils also a startling extension of this revelation.  It reveals that the Christ, the Jewish Messiah, had come not only for the Jews but also for the whole world, that his reign would extend far to the east and the west of Israel.

The story of the Magi was an early signal that the Church of Christ would be universal. By means of the Epiphany story Matthew gives notice, early in his account, that the coming of Jesus would have world-shaking implications.

With the coming of Jesus there would no longer be a chosen people – for in Christ all are chosen, all invited to the table of the Lord.  In the kingdom there would be neither Jew nor Greek.

In featuring the tale of the Magi in his infancy-narrative, Matthew is making the statement that from the viewpoint of the kingdom of God; all men and all women are created equal.  This doctrine of a basic Christian equality will be reinforced at Pentecost – that second Epiphany –when people coming from many different lands, speaking different languages will all understand.

But what does Christ’s message of a basic equality mean for us today?  How does it affect our morning cup of coffee?  It does have truly major implications.

It means that we are called to a high degree of tolerance for others or, better, a high degree of respect and reverence for each person.  It means that we must be inclusive of all persons, of people of every race and gender, even the unborn.  It means that we must respect people’s sincere consciences, even if we feel they are objectively wrong.  We must strive to love the sinner even as we hate the sin.

This for the simple reason that God loves us all with an unconditional love, and has given us all the same invitation into his kingdom.  Pope Francis has given us inspiring examples in this regard.

But there are two things that the Christian equality does not do.  First, it does not do away with all differences between people.  It does not banish all distinctions and reduce us to a series of clones or to a homogenous unisex.  Rather, equality as taught by Christ is eager to highlight the differences that exist among us.

Christian equality is not afraid to acknowledge that one person has a higher I.Q. than another, that some are more brilliant and outstanding in social grace, and others are not; that some people sing like Andrea Bocelli or Sarah Brightman, or Celine Dione, while others just croak.

Christians who are truly Christian are not envious of the qualities they see in others.  They acknowledge them and celebrate them.  They rejoice whenever and wherever they discover a gift of God, either in themselves or in others.

To love someone is to wish good things for that person – that he or she will radiate, grow, run, leap, and dance with God’s gifts.  Christian equality does not foster a tolerance of relative morality, a do-your-own thing mentality.

While it is eager to praise, it is not afraid to stand up and confront in the face of evident evils.  Like Jesus cleansing the temple, it will not stand back from using a “tough love,” which through fraternal correction, challenges people to change.

For Christians, our equality is based primarily on a relationship – a relationship we all have with God.  We are all equal in the sense that, despite our different qualities and defects, we are all loved by God with an unconditional love, a love that begins long before the moment of our birth.  In this love is our dignity grounded; in it our rights are based.

On that glorious night in the East over 2,000 years ago, the star of God’s love shone upon both Jewish shepherds and Arab Magi above a stable in Bethlehem.  It is a sign of our equal worth, in the eyes of God and one another.

The exchange of gifts on Epiphany symbolizes our duty to love.  What is Christian love (agape), after all, but the giving of gifts.  Love is to wish the good of the other.

There is a lovely legend about a Fourth Wise Man.  His name was Artaban.  Artaban was supposed to rendezvous with Melchor, Gaspar, and Balthazar.  Artaban had prepared three special gifts for the new born King, a priceless pearl, a magnificent ruby, and a huge sapphire.

As Artaban was racing to meet the other three, he saw a man lying on the road dying of fever.  Artaban was a physician and he thought of stopping to help the dying man.  But if he stopped, he would be late for the rendezvous, and the three might proceed without him.

He decided to stop and help the sick man.  And sure enough, the three had left without him.  Now he has to buy his own provision.  He had to sell his huge sapphire to buy all his provisions for the journey.

When he arrived at Bethlehem, the three Magi were gone, the Holy Family was gone, and the soldiers of Herod were killing the infants.  At one doorway, a frantic mother met Artaban pleading with him to protect her baby.  Artaban stood at the doorway with the ruby in his hand.  And when the soldiers came, he offered the ruby for them to spare the house.

For more than 30 years, Artaban searched for the King, who was born in Bethlehem.  Then one day he heard a man from Galilee was to be crucified. By this time Artaban was already old and ill from the untiring search, and from ministering to poor lepers.  He thought to himself, “Maybe this Jesus is the King that I’ve been searching for.  Perhaps this last jewel, the priceless pearl can buy his freedom.”

He started his long and tiring journey to Jerusalem.  As he reached Jerusalem, a young girl fleeing from pursuing soldiers met him.  The girl pleaded with him for help.  Her father had not been able to pay a large sum of money he borrowed and so was put in prison and she is being sold as a slave.

Artaban looked at the priceless pearl, and when the soldiers arrived gave away the pearl in exchange for the freedom of the girl. Artaban, down-hearted and exhausted by the journey and toil, fell dying, when the sky turned dark and a storm started brewing on that Good Friday.

As he lay dying on the lap of the girl he had saved, he raised his eyes and whispered, “It is you, my Lord, all these years I’ve searched for.  Now, I have nothing more to offer you.”

Then a voice from a distance said, “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me.” Artaban died a happy man knowing that the King he was searching for had received all his gifts.

This is the great message of Christmas.  God came down from heaven and lived among his people.  That is where we will find him.  That is where we must look for him.

There’s a story about a parish priest, who climbed a high church tower to be nearer to God so that he could hear God’s word better and pass it on to the people.  But the higher he climbed, the farther from God he seemed to get.

Finally, in desperation, the priest cried out from the very top of the tower, “God, speak to me! God, where are you?” And at that moment the priest heard a voice calling from far below, “My son, here I am!  Down here on earth among my people.”

This brings us back to the Feast of the Epiphany, which we celebrate today. It celebrates the coming of the Wise Men from the East to honor Jesus. If we are to find God in our own world today, we must look for Him in the same place that the Magi found Him – not among the great and the powerful, but among the lowly and the powerless.

If we are to find Jesus in our world, we must look among the poor, the hungry, and the homeless.

 

Let’s close with a poem that sums up the message of Christmas in practical terms:

“When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with the flocks,

 

The work of Christmas begins:

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoners,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among brothers,

To make music with the heart.”

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