5 January 2020 St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Churches in Naples, FL
Isaiah 60:1-6 + Psalm 72 + Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6 + Matthew 2:1-12
Fun as it might be to sing, “We three King of Orient Are”, and no matter how long and how often we set up our Christmas nativity scenes, this Gospel never says that there were three, and it does not say they were kings. So, if we are going to let this Gospel speak to us we have to pay more attention to Matthew than to these little traditions no matter how old they are. The Gospel is older.
This is a feast about an Epiphany, an unveiling, or a revelation. It is not a feast about three kinds of the orient. For all we know, there may have been a whole caravan of them. What Matthew tells us is that they were from the land of the rising sun. That’s the orient which in those times probably meant what we today call Iran. “Magi” is best understood to mean astrologers or magicians. Perhaps they were Zoroastrian priests. What is most important is that they were religious seekers. They were not Hebrews, so they did not have the Scriptures to guide them. So, they relied on their way of knowing God which was through nature and the night skies.
What we are left with once we get those details right is a contrast between those who seek God, and those who have no interest, even though they know something about God’s plan. The contrast here is between these “Magi” and those Scholars of Herod, who even though they know what is to come, they do nothing and they stay home. These Magi were open enough to look beyond the limits of their own wisdom. They were so hungry for more meaning in life that they went to a foreign land and consulted the wisdom of an alien tradition. When they learned what they could from those Hebrew Scholars, they continued on the way their own lights led them, and finally they met the mother and child and realized they had found what they were seeking.
When Matthew tells us that they departed for their country by another way, what he is telling us is that they were not the same as they had been when they set off on the journey, and we know nothing more about them. We are given here a story of the unexpected and the unfinished. These religious seekers brought nothing for Herod and his great royal court. They were not impressed nor interested in that power and that kind of authority. They sought what was simple. They sought real meaning and were led to a simple family.
As we close the Christmas season once more, Matthew invites us to a kind of double vision. We must realize that all our theology and catechisms must lead us to encounters with God. If they do not, we are like those scholars in Herod’s court, and will shall miss the very presence that saves us. At the same time, with that other eye, the more we become like the Magi and look beyond our little world with openness to new horizons and revelations, the more likely we are to find what we all seek, a home with the living God.