The visit of the Magi was the first public revelation or appearance of Jesus. It is symbolically enacted in the crib before our altar. In addition to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and some animals (including the Holy Name rabbit), the figures of three Magi are kneeling in homage before the Infant Jesus.
In the cultural world of Jesus, Magi were a caste of very high ranking political-religious advisers to the rulers of the modern Iran. They paid particular attention to the stars and gained an international reputation for astrology, which was at that time highly regarded as a science. Although they are commonly referred to as “kings,” there is nothing in the Gospel to imply that they were rulers of any kind. They were Magi and had enormous influence as advisers to Eastern rulers.
Up to this point, the birth of Jesus had been a purely private event, known only to Mary, Joseph and a handful of shepherds. Emerging from outside this small circle, the Magi represent the first of many others who would be led to Jesus and worship him as the Son of God.
The Gospel story describes the Magi finding their way to Jesus by following a star. At first it appears that they discovered Jesus by their own craft. However, the account makes clear that they were led to Jesus – led by a star, under God’s control. They ‘followed the star wherever it went’, as the carol relates, and this led them beyond the borders of their own territory to Bethlehem.
Just as God led the Magi by a star, so, too, God leads us by various means or ‘stars’ to the same Jesus. So, perhaps, in our Mass today we might remember the star – a person or event – God used to bring you and me to do what the Magi did – worshipping the Christ Child (as we do every time we take part in Mass)? It may have been a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, priest or friend that God first used in this way. Later in life there may have been – and continue to be – others whom God uses to inspire and sustain us in our faith, especially when it is flagging and we feel like giving up.
As the star, under God’s control, led the Magi beyond the borders of their own country of Iran, we also might ask ourselves: is God, perhaps, wanting to lead me out of my “comfort zone” i.e. to break free out of my own comfortable way of life to do something more with it at this time? Is there something God may be calling me to do but which I have been resisting up to now? If so, what better time than now -at the start of a new year –to give it a go with Christ our ‘star’ to lead and guide us?
Holy Name, Jesmond
5 January 2020