WHEN Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, 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.”
When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”
After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
That cheap nativity scene made out of cardboard we had in my childhood years, was without the three kings. So when our school principal displayed in his office a new set of Belen peopled with other characters as the sheep, shepherds, angels, camels, and the three kings, it was an illuminating disclosure for my imagination: that pop-out card of the Holy Family, comet, and the ox, was not enough for Christmas.
The three crowned grown-ups were of different skin colors. I did not just know them from our catechism, but even from the song popular at that time, Disyembre Beinte-Singko: Melchor, Gaspar, Baltazar were bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And I really believed they were looking for the newborn king.
Later I learned they were not kings but Magi, wise men, astrologers, and that such term originally referred to a Persian priestly caste having more than just human knowledge. Gradually, as I look deeper into the coming of the Magi, in the light of our readings, I have learned to focus more on the deeper reality that this story imparts.
The First Reading helps us in situating the role of the Magi. Isaiah proclaims, “Arise, shine for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you… Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” The Reading ends with: “They shall bring gold and frankincense and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord (Is 60:1-6). This text expresses the firm belief of the Jews that indeed Jerusalem or biblically also called Mt. Zion, is the place where God will lead all nations to salvation. The Messiah will show them the Light as he is the Light. The Zion theology is for the Jews to be reminded that they too, have to be instruments in leading other nations to this mountain. And the people who came from different parts of the world, that is, from different nations shall have understood that God is at work, seeing what God’s plan for the world is. Was not this shown by the Magi? Their wisdom has made them see this Star, this Radiance of God for all. And they did not belong to the Jewish world.
Coming from the Judaeo-Christian tradition, we know that this Pilgrimage of the nations to Mount Zion is also expressed in the New Testament. The Second Reading, from the Letter to the Ephesians, explicitly states a revelation, an Epiphany! – that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel (Eph 3:6).
The Magi are the first to show to us that indeed we are part of that community God desires to be realized in the end–eschatological. We also pay homage to the newborn Messiah; we recognize that he is Jesus. Is not this Christmas? When we as a people really feel that the God who is born among us invites us to come to the new Jerusalem, Mt. Zion! And we shall experience this fullness of life, this Shalom or peace. A true and priceless gift. No wonder in the Greek Orthodox Church, they have their “exchanging gifts” during this feast!
King Herod and all Jerusalem with him were greatly troubled (Mt 2:3). The presence of the Magi jolted them. Somehow they are forced to widen their consciousness about God’s unlimited grace.
I come from the southern part of the Philippines where I have learned to live with the Lumads and the Muslims, but I also have consciously joined with other believers of the Lord to continue to witness to the saving action of God that has already begun, through our Church that faces so many difficulties these days. Our Church as the eschatological people of God is challenged to be a place that casts the light of the radiant Lord, as Isaiah described. And from the fact that I am a Filipino who is also given this gift of faith, this practice of religion, and based on my encounters with other peoples in other parts of the world who also found the “child” bringing with them their treasures–whatever they can share, their whole life–I know miracles continue to happen; Jesus manifests his presence.
Today, we treasure this gift of salvation that God has revealed to us in Christ Jesus, our guiding star. And with Mary, the gentle star of the Sea, we hope to grow in wisdom, finding out the right way to make the reign of God felt in our midst so that the radiance of God may shine on us all, believers and non-believers alike.
– Bro. Hansel B. Mapayo, SSP
– (Jan. 8, 2017)