Fr. Charles Irvin
Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12
The Magi, the mysterious visitors from the East, were outsiders, non-Jews, from beyond the boundaries, laws, and traditions of Israel. We sing a hymn about them the words of which present them as three in number. Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar their names in Medieval legend. But we don’t know much about them at all. They may have been three, thirteen, or thirty. Scripture is silent, telling us only that they were Magi, astrologers or Persian priests.
They were not Jews. They were not Christians, at least in any sense that we understand what it means to be Christian. And they were not Muslims either. Mohammed, the Prophet, didn’t start his religion until the early 7th century.
The one overriding point, however, is that God was communicating with “outsiders”, “others”, “those people”. He made Himself known to them and they responded to His presence in Christ.
Nobody has an exclusive claim on God. It’s one of the hardest lessons we humans have to learn. And we desperately need to. The evidence at Waco, Texas, presented by the followers of David Koresh, the history of wars and killings in the name of religion, along with the arrogance of self-important “religious” people give ample testimony to the fact that nothing is more dangerous than the assumption that we have God and others do not.
This simple and yet powerful story of the Magi seeking the Christ child stands against all of that insanity. And what is quite remarkable is that it is told only by St. Matthew, the most Jewish of all of the writers of the gospels, the one who deliberately wrote his gospel to the Chosen.
Matthew was a Jew who was a tax collector for the Romans. He knew what it meant to be an “outsider”, to be shunned, to feel the pain resulting from the scorn that those who felt they had an exclusive claim on God had given to Him. Matthew looked for a religion that unites instead of divides.
And so St. Matthew begins his account in the starry heavens, far above our human boundaries and divisions. The Wise Men found God’s revelation not in the Bible but in the stars. We are a religious people of the Book, of the Bible. We are the heirs of the moral, ethical, and spiritual insights of the prophets, our Judeo-Christian culture, and the rich history and tradition of our Church. All of those are special blessings and gifts that have been given us. We did not merit or achieve them; we did not earn them or purchase them. They were simply given us; and we are privileged to have them.
But we do not therefore have any exclusive claim on God, or our own exclusive access to God. He uses the things of nature, the things of this world, and, yes, even people of other faiths, through which to reveal Himself to all peoples. And not only to reveal Himself to them, but to CALL them to Himself, to call them to seek Him and find Him and come into His presence in closeness, warmth and intimacy.
And God also reveals Himself to us in our humanity. There’s nothing quite like a little child, particularly a child in danger or difficulty or suffering, to unite us. People of all races, faiths, beliefs, backgrounds, and ethnicities unite when it comes to protecting children. If there’s any one thing around which human beings will rally, it is a child. When it comes to rescuing a child who has fallen into a well or is trapped in some cave there’s no excluding there! Whether you’re a Christian, Jew, Muslim or Buddhist, whether you’re Black, White, Yellow or Red, you’re welcomed and needed.
It is not, therefore, without reason that God made Himself first known through a child, and that all sorts of different folks were attracted to Him, and that King Herod wanted to kill Him. For Herod’s power rested upon keeping people divided. He was a puppet king in the hands of the Roman Emperor, deathly afraid of any power that could attract even foreign kings to come looking for the presence of God in such an anointed and special child.
This child, of course, grew in wisdom and knowledge and grace before God and men. And this Christ calls us in our time, in our place under the sun, to be like Him, one who unites instead of divides. For He gave us a religion that Finds God not just in the stars of heaven but in bread, wine, water, oil and human flesh and blood. That God comes to us through nature is a fundamentally Catholic teaching.
And the same for finding God incarnate in human flesh and blood. Like the Magi, we see God in a little child as well as in suffering humanity nailed upon various crosses. If the Beatitudes teach us anything at all, they teach us that. And we, in this anointed Child, eventually come to God through death.
For this Child born unto us, this Mighty Counsellor and Prince of Peace grew in our very humanity to conquer death and join us into His glorious and Spirit-filled resurrected humanity, risen over death, victorious and conquering over all that would divides us, tear us apart, and tear us away from the God of light and life who wants to take us back into the stars of heaven, there to love Him face to face.