Inspired by the Magi, let’s find a better way ‘home’ after this Christmas
“Living the Word” / By Tim Irwin
Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord / Jan. 3
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,10-11,12-13; Ephesians 3:2-3a,5-6; Matthew 2:1-12
The Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the virtues of faith, hope, and love in a unique and unexpected way. The story of the Magi illustrates the lengths that faith-filled people will go to realize their hopes. It seems a very fitting way to conclude the story of Jesus’s birth. The word Magi refers to a priestly caste of people living in Persia. They were likely practitioners of Zoroastrianism and their job was to study the stars.
Astrology can be found everywhere in the ancient world. No artificial light meant the night sky dominated, much to the fascination of the ancients. Astrology likely began because people realized that the annual path of the sun could reveal when crops should be planted in order to maximize the potential for a good harvest. So maybe, they reasoned, the position of a star might suggest a good time to honor a god or attack an enemy.
The ancients assigned various constellations to areas in the known world. Aries represented Judea. They didn’t know that planets reflect rather than create light, so they thought the planets were stars that wandered more freely through the sky. In the year 6 BC, Jupiter entered Aries. This may have been the sign that triggered the Magi to make the arduous journey of 1,000 miles or so to Judea in search of a newborn king. They probably thought that they would visit a newborn son and royal heir of King Herod.
Arriving in Jerusalem, the Magi made an inquiry: “Where is the newborn King of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” King Herod was troubled and so was all of Jerusalem. Herod constantly feared being deposed to the extent that he killed three of his sons; no wonder the population felt troubled. Since he had not fathered a newborn recently, Herod took this to mean that the newborn king might be the promised Messiah. Consulting the chief priests and scribes, he tells the Magi to go to Bethlehem and then return to him with the location of the child, so that he, too, could offer homage.
FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE
Wouldn’t you love to know what the Magi were thinking as they traveled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem? When they entered the house occupied by the Holy Family, their hopes were fulfilled, their faith was rewarded, and a love for a helpless infant enkindled in their hearts.
We know what to expect. For us it’s not a tale of intrigue and discovery, but a tried-and-true story of a baby born into a violent time and place with a message of eternal compassion and peace. Perhaps we might take a lesson from the Magi and see these events through their eyes. It’s easy to become complacent and simply take for granted what we know and believe about Jesus. We might imagine that like a movie script, the plot was settled before the story began and those folks that we encounter in the telling are nothing more than characters in the story.
Of course, they were much more. They were flesh and blood people who experienced the joys and sorrows of life just as we do. They had free will and the choices that they made genuinely impacted Salvation History.
The Magi did not return to Herod and the Christ Child escaped the Slaughter of the Innocents. They went home another way. That is what people who live lives of faith, hope, and love find — a better way home. Let’s take inspiration from the Magi and just as they did, go forward from this Christmas season living lives of faith, hope and love.
TIM IRWIN teaches theology and philosophy at Notre Dame High School in Peoria. He is a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Morton.