This weekend we celebrate the Epiphany, when the Magi in Bethlehem came to honor the newborn Jesus as the king of the Jews and Savior of the nations. This celebration, along with Christmas, Pentecost, and the Easter Triduum, are the highest events in the Church calendar. And this veneration of Christ by the Magi in Bethlehem reflects at least four glorious themes: the gathering of nations, the idea of this life as a pilgrimage, the intercession of Mary and the saints, and the offering of our gifts to God. Regarding the first point, the Gospel according to Matthew identifies the Magi as “from the east,” which is often understood to be Persia, eastern Syria, Arabia, or some combination of them.
While the Gospel does not name them, Christian tradition refers to the Magi as Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior. They were not of the Jewish faith, but they were guided by their desire for God and so were open to divine assistance. And thus, as St. Thomas Aquinas points out, “their faith was a first promise of the faith and devotion of the nations who were to come to Christ from afar.” Summa Theologica part III, question 36, article 8.
For their harmonious worship of Jesus and their gifs to His family, in contrast to the violence of Herod, reflects the gathering of all nations in the Church in the midst of a conflicted world. And, because they were, like Abraham of old, willing to leave behind what they knew for the sake of a greater kingdom, they reflect our own calling to set aside time to approach the mysterious realm of God. With faith and reason, we can increase in our understanding of God; but like the magi, we must ever be guided by the lights of heaven (in revelation and Church teaching) to know that there is ever more progress ahead. We do not come to Jesus alone, however.
When the Magi approached Jesus, they were welcomed by Mary and came to the house provided by Joseph. And likewise, we come to Jesus in the context of Mary, the saints, and the whole Church to honor Him and receive His light. And, as Jesus and His family received gifts from the Magi, we also are called to participate with the Church by offering what we have to give and so make of our home and towns places where the joy of Christmas comes to earth and guides us to the final Christmas of everlasting joy.