Saturday, January 5, 2013


Basilica of  St. Apollinare, Ravenna    6th C.
The coming of the Magi is celebrated at Epiphany (Jan. 6) and in many countries Epiphany is the major festival for giving gifts not Christmas as in our own country. Epiphany is celebrated twelve days after Christmas usually on January 6th. That’s where we get the twelve days of Christmas. When I lived in Europe many years ago and found myself in Rome for the month of January, I was called to the home of my good friend, Father Doctor Spellucci, who was Pope Paul's private secretary for German affairs.  There on a table filled with flowers and delicate Italian pastries, were gifts which he had set out for me and others.

Who were these wise men? In the Book of Daniel, the term magi  is used to refer to a class of wise,  non-Jewish, religious men who were astrologers and interpreters of  dreams and messages of the gods. This is probably what Matthew had in mind when he calls them Magi.

We  know that they would have been Gentiles and this is the reason why they appear in Matthew's gospel as they are a foreshadow that in the coming of Jesus Christ, salvation was for all people.
Dr. He Qi

The Magi were obviously curious and more than that seekers of the truth. They were sort of Old Testament detectives, finding pieces of a puzzle then trying to get them all put together. They knew the old prophesies and that a sign from the heavens would lead them. They didn’t know the full extent of what that heavenly sign  meant but they deduced that there was one born king of the Jews. And they came prepared!

The magi persevered in their quest for the truth and were rewarded with a chance to be among the first to worship Jesus and it did not seem to deter their faith that He was not born in a palace, nor of obvious royal trappings but in a very humble abode surrounded by animals.

Dr. He Qi
They presented their gifts without a second thought: Gold  for a king, Frankincense for a priest, and Myrrh for one who was going to die. How did they know how the life of this Child would unfold?  They were seers who had faith, perhaps hope for the future,  and certainly love. One wonders what they took back with them when they returned to their countries.  They must have been richer and probably spread these riches.

It is not too late to join in for a real celebration of this new-born King. Like the wise men, seek Him, and you will find Him, and finding Him, present your gifts, which as the child's carol says:

If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him –
Give my heart. (C. Rossetti)

One of our favorite poets T.S. Eliot wrote beautiful words (following his own conversion) for this feast which relates the seers foretelling the death to come for this Child. This is not so we forget the joy of the feast itself, but that we remember why this Child was born to us!

The Coming of the Magi

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet...

Jim Janknegt

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

Nalini Jayasuriya - Sri Lanka
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This:  were we led all that way for
Birth or Death?  There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt.  I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Brian Whelan, 2004

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