The infancy feasts of Jesus offer us such incredibly rich opportunities for reflection on our relationship with God, our faith, how God works in the world, and our relationships with one another. On each of these days—Christmas, Epiphany, and the Presentation of the Lord—we recall important moments in the life of the infant Christ Child. But we also recall the ways in which the profound work of God in the Incarnation is revealed to humanity through the people present at each of these events. We see, in each of these feasts, the way the Light of the World spreads from soul to soul, each one showing others the way to the stable.
At Christmas we see the Light spread through the Holy Family and out to the shepherds. Those in the world nearest to the heart of God. The poor, lonely, dispossessed, downtrodden, and often forgotten. Also people who number among God’s chosen. These are people of ancient Judea who knew the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah and were expecting, some day, that God would send a Messiah who would begin changing the structure of the world.
At Epiphany, we see the Light spreading in a different way. Here we have the magi visiting the Holy Family to meet and pay homage to the Christ Child. Tradition holds that the magi are from various points of origin, different continents even. They are the wise people of these other cultures. While they are not members of God’s covenant with Israel, they clearly have a relationship with Holy Wisdom and understand that the world around them has been ordered with purpose by its creator. They can read, in the movement of the stars of night, that the creator of those stars is working toward something important and profound. They can also see that it will happen in a particular place and time. A place and time worth attending, even at great cost.
The magi, each leaving from their own homes, packing up supplies for a long journey, hiring the staff needed for such a trip, and carrying the whole way expensive gifts to present, must have been shocked when they met one another along the road. Each of them, drawn by the light of the star, calling them toward Bethlehem, encountering others who have been led in the same way. A diversity of cultures, languages, methods of discernment, and perhaps even ideas about what they were traveling to see, but all in agreement that this moment was one worth the cost of being present for.
On hearing Herod’s concerns, meeting with the Holy Family, and hearing what had transpired recently, the magi would have begun to understand the pilgrimage they had been on and the nature of the baby to which they had been drawn. Holy Wisdom and the creator of the stars had led them to meet the very thing they studied so long, newly born. Not a Roman ruler in a palace, but a Judean baby in a stable.
When they set out for their homes, they chose to heed Wisdom’s warning in their dream and not return to Herod. But surely they spoke to other people of what they had seen and experienced. And surely the other people in their caravans shared the story. Many, unnecessary to Matthew’s telling of the Gospel but present nonetheless, may have also knelt before Mary and Joseph to see the newborn Jesus and wondered at what this new Light in the world meant. And doubtless, seeing such a procession enter their small town, citizens of Bethlehem must have wondered at what these strangers were doing, claiming to follow a star, and found themselves drawn into the procession and carried along to meet the Holy Family and see God in human flesh.
There is a common meme around certain Christian circles that reads “Wise men still seek Him.” (There is no indication in Matthew’s narration of the Gospel that all of the magi were men, but that’s a different homily.) The meme is true, those of us who claim our lives in Christ, who call ourselves Christians, who have a relationship with Holy Wisdom and the creator of all things, are called to seek Christ in all times, places, and people. We look for God in each of our interactions and are forever seeking, just as the magi followed the star. But we are also called, like the magi and their caravans, to bring others with us. This is how the Light of the World spreads. Soul by soul and often without great fanfare. We carry out our lives of faith as we are called and someone else notices, asking why we’re always busy on Sunday morning, or why we sit so quietly (praying) in a break at work, or what the funny chalk inscription above the door to our house means, or any number of Christian peculiarities. Here, like the magi, we are able to point to the Light of the star we follow, and ask “Would you like to come, too?” The magi are still walking and we are followers in the great procession, ever seeking Christ that we might pay homage and share our gifts.
Photo by shubham gond on Unsplash