They Saw And They Came To Adore Him!
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
These events from the second chapter of Matthew are a foretaste of the mission of Jesus to the gentiles, who are very attracted to the light. To re-live the suffering of his people Jesus is sent into exile in Egypt as the Jews were for 400 years. He also endures the second captivity in Babylon with the slaughter of the innocent boys under the age of two who give their lives for him. And lastly the humble return of the remnant of the Jews is lived again as the Holy Family returns to a small town called Nazareth. These stories, these real life events, have one purpose: to teach one that following Christ will bring hostility and persecution from his own people.
The Magi represent pagan people who are docile and ready to obey the truth first found in Mary and Joseph. Two words that we hear in this gospel of Matthew (2: 1-12) represent their whole way of life: we saw and we came. They react very quickly, without hesitation: they saw and they came to adore. In these pagans we find wise people who seek the truth and when they find it they do not hesitate to adore it and subject themselves to it.
The goal of their exhaustive journey is to “bend down to the ground,” and do homage to this child King. Blessed are we if we manage to surrender ourselves wholly to it, and not get distracted. These wise men are not doing pseudoscience by not seeking anything which often turns into a self-gratification of one’s talents and abilities to analyze. For these wise men the goal of reflection and study is adoration. Nothing else.
Herod doesn’t look up to see or even notice the star. He is only trying to protect his little kingdom, as one of the many petty kings under the Roman emperor. Herod knows enough to call him the “Christ.” He enquires frantically and repeatedly about this child. He knows and in theory accepts what Christ is. But he doesn’t accept him for himself. His knowledge leads him to hatred, not to adoration.
Christ is born in the poverty and weakness of Bethlehem but the constellations speak of his splendor and glory. What a petty monarch refuses to see, the heavens proclaim, and so does all creation. After all the baloney of politics and maneuvering what will be left at the end of time: God, the wise and the stars.
Why should Herod be threatened? How could Bethlehem rival the huge city of Jerusalem? Any king or leader, then or now, should come only to shepherd his people and so why not accept the help? There can be only one reason for his reaction: his rule is unjust. It is not to serve the people but to himself. It was said at the time as a pun that it is safer to be one of Herod’s pigs than to be one of his sons, since he killed most of them. Christ comes first to obey. It could not be otherwise since the law emanates from him and gives life.
Why does he go secretly to find out about the Messiah? Joseph decides secretly to protect Mary. Herod goes secretly because he is in darkness. He wants to nip his adversary in the bud. Herod accepts unquestioningly the authenticity of the star seen by the Magi, but he cannot marvel at it. He sends the Magi as his lackeys and pretends to be a pious Jew who wants to adore and bow low before him. How about us? Does our knowledge of Christ lead us to adore him or lead us to violence? The Kings are not fooled by him.
In the gospel the star is as much a character as the Magi, Herod and the Child. It appears and disappears at will. It bears witness to the Light. The Magi rejoice with great joy not at God, or at the truth, but at the Path to God, which this star provides. It is not something passive. It is exhausting and it has a specific object as its focus. God provides you also with a path to him, through your parish, your family and your friends; this is your path to God.
Why do they see the star and Herod does not? To find something you need to be looking for it. To understand the answer one needs to first ask the question. Their fidelity to little lights takes them to the source of Light. In Mary’s arm they find the Child. This is always where the Child can be found. God gives himself to man and man gives himself to God in this embrace. Mary says nothing, not even a pious word, yet she nurtures, preserves, protects and holds him out for the Magi and for us.
Lastly, the gifts are symbolic of the King, not practical, and for this reason they are more real and lasting. Gold is fit for a king, incense to adore God, and myrrh for his upcoming passion to anoint his body. To understand this mystery we must lower our heads as a person does now in Bethlehem to enter into the church where the Nativity took place. Many centuries ago the lintel was lowered to less than five feet to prevent horses from entering and the people have left it that way, perhaps to remind us to adore the Christ, to lower our heads to the ground and to praise him.