In today’s Gospel, magi “from the east” ask, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” Just by asking this question, they herald the New Light that has dawned on all men.
Gospel (Read Mt 2:1-12)
Today, St. Matthew tells us that after Jesus’ birth, an event loaded with significance for the whole world took place. “Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem,” looking for a king who had been recently born, the “king of the Jews.” Who were these men, and why did they ask this question?
The “magi” were likely astrologers, considered at that time to be “wise men” because of their lifelong commitment to studying the skies and finding meaning in the cosmos. They probably came from Persia, and they possibly were part of a school of wise men over which the Jewish prophet, Daniel, had been given authority hundreds of years earlier. Daniel, as a young man, had been carried off by the Babylonians into exile, along with all the other Jews. This was the punishment God meted out to Judah for her covenant infidelity in the sixth century B.C. In that strange, pagan land, Daniel resolutely kept the faith of Israel, trusting in God as his only king and refusing to participate in the rampant idolatry. God called Daniel to be His prophet there, and He also gave him an extraordinary gift of interpreting dreams and visions. Daniel interpreted one of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams that no one else in the realm could understand. In gratitude, the king made Daniel “chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon” (read Dan 2:48). If this school of wise men endured through the centuries (Daniel never returned to Judah), it was still in existence at the time of our story, although Babylon had long ago been conquered by the Persians. The school would likely have preserved a certain Jewish prophecy that would have been well-known to Daniel and of great interest to astrologers. Why?
During the Exodus (about 1500 B.C.), as Israel was making her way back to the Promised Land from bondage in Egypt, one the kings who felt threatened by their advance commissioned a “seer” to pronounce a curse on the Israelites. Instead, he was moved by God to bless them, and he was given “the vision of the Almighty,” as well as this prophecy: “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not nigh: a star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (read Num 24:17). Here we have a Gentile prophet moved by God’s Spirit to foretell the rise of a great king in Israel, but “not now.” Every Jew knew this prophecy. Every Jew also knew that, of Jacob’s twelve sons, the one who would rule with a “scepter” would be Judah: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs, and to him shall be the obedience of all the peoples” (read Gen 49:10, emphasis added).
We have to wonder if Daniel, the fearless, faithful Jewish prophet and wise man in Babylon, made sure to preserve these prophecies in the school over which he presided, because their fulfillment would affect not only Israel but “all the peoples.” If so, hundreds of years after Daniel lived, the magi from the east, upon seeing an unusually bright star in the night sky, knew they needed to make the long trek to Jerusalem. They wanted to pay homage to their newborn king.
See how disturbed Herod was by all this. Surely that is because another part of the prophecy about the rising star was that “Edom will be dispossessed” (Num 24:18). Herod was a non-Jew, an Edomite usurper to the throne in Jerusalem. No wonder he was worried! The wise men of Judah, when consulted by Herod concerning the place of the king’s birth, knew where to find him: Bethlehem. This, too, had been prophesied long ago (read Micah 5:2). The magi made their way there, following the star. It appeared to “stop” over one particular house, so they entered and saw “the Child with Mary, His mother.” They saw the fulfillment of the promise God had made to all people, not just the Jews, in the Garden of Eden. There He promised that “the woman” and her “seed” would take up, definitively, the battle waged against mankind by His enemy, the Serpent. The magi “prostrated themselves and did Him homage.”
Of course they did!
Possible response: Lord Jesus, the magi brought You wonderful gifts in their adoration for You. What can I give You today that is worthy to do the same?