On Sunday, Jan. 8, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. The word epiphany means “revelation,” and the Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the revelation of Jesus Christ to the entire world. We celebrate the three kings—the magi—on Epiphany because, when the magi discovered Christ, he was revealed to the world beyond Israel—and his mission of salvation for every nation began to take shape.
St. Matthew says that the magi came from “the land of the sunrise,” from the east. Most probably, the magi were priests of a Persian religion, whom Pope Benedict XVI calls “custodians of religious and philosophical knowledge that had developed in that area and came to be cultivated there.”
At every time, in every culture, man looks up to the stars in wonder, seeking and searching for the truth. He has always done so. The philosopher Rudolf Steiner wrote that anthropos, the Greek word for man, is best understood as “he who looks up into the heights to find the source and origin of his life.”
The magi looked up into the heights. The magi were seekers and mystics, searching for meaning in the stars. And astoundingly, they found it. They came to Jerusalem because they had seen a star which promised them that the “king of the Jews” had been born. The magi were not among the Jewish people, they did not have the benefit of God’s prophetic revelation, but still, in their own religious search for truth, they expected something great from the “king of the Jews,” and so they sought him out.
And the magi went searching in hope for the Lord after seeing a star.
Of course, we do not know quite what they saw in the sky. The German astronomer Johannes Kepler says that Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn were aligned in the years that Jesus was most likely born. And that this alignment, if combined with the sight of celestial supernova, would have been an extraordinary vision in the sky. The Magi might have seen this, and through some glimmer of prophetic insight, expected that this star meant that a great king, a king of hope and promise, had been born in Jerusalem.
Pope Benedict says that the magi remind us that “the cosmos speaks of Christ, even though its language is not yet fully intelligible to man in his present state. The language of creation… gives man an intuition of the Creator. Moreover, it arouses the expectation, indeed the hope, that this God will one day reveal himself.”
The magi also tell us that many men and women of wisdom, from other religious faiths, are earnestly seeking God, and searching for the truth. That many seek Christ without knowing it, because they are seeking something great from God, and seeking him in hope. The magi remind us that there are often glimmers of truth—penumbras of God’s revelation—which can and should lead all people to discover the savior of the world.
When the magi began their journey, they did not go straight to Christ—they went to Jerusalem—and they remind us that those who seek God may come close to Christ, but they will not know and enjoy real and authentic communion with him unless we point the way, unless we lead them directly to the King of Kings. The magi glean a great deal about God through his creation. But leading the world to know the Lord, Jesus Christ, is the work and mission of his disciples—each one of us.
When the magi went to Jerusalem, they asked King Herod to help them find the newborn King of the Jews. But Herod knew that if a Messiah had come, his own power would be lost, his own pride would be humbled, his own reign would have to submit to the Christ. And so, rather than seek the truth, he sought to protect his own interests, and ordered a massacre of any child who might be the Christ.
The magi found Jesus, and despite the words of Herod, they worshipped him.
In the story of the magi, each one of us is reminded that Christ has come to lead all people to Christ. That we must be witnesses and evangelists. That we must find those who seek him, like the magi, and lead them to truth. That knowing Christ requires humility, and sacrifice, and placing the truth above our own narrow interests.
St. Paul says that God has given us the grace to make disciples of Jesus Christ of all nations. And by the grace in every human heart, many are seeking the Lord. May we proclaim that Christ the King, the Lord of every human heart, has been born. May we proclaim “Emmanuel”—God is with us—to everyone who seeks to know and live the truth.