Tag Archives: Magi

We saw His star

January 3, 2019

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Christmas Star

When the magi looked into the night sky, they “saw his star” (Mt 2:2). It was the star of Jesus. It was crystal clear that night. There was an array of lights spanning the sky. The moon was glimmering. Stars were twinkling. Planets were shining. Meteors were glowing. Comets were sparkling. It was breathtaking, a sight to behold.

The star of Jesus was not like the other stars. It stood out. It glared with true beauty. It was brighter and more intense, attractive and captivating. Jesus is light, the light of the world, a beacon of goodness and truth, illumination for the mind and guidance for one’s path.

The magi were star gazers. They watched the sky night after night, and they knew the usual arrangement of stars and constellations, and would be quick to notice anything out of the ordinary. That night there was a star that was extraordinary, like nothing they had ever seen. The magi were highly selective. They chose one star over all of the others, and made a conscious decision to follow the brightest star, and not to follow any of the other lights.

We, like the magi, are confronted with a similar situation. Our world is filled with bright lights. There are movie stars and star athletes, glittering diamonds and shiny cars, neon lights and flood lights. The world is aglow. There is a vast array of lights, some brighter, others dimmer, but there are lights everywhere, all competing for our attention, all beckoning for us to follow them.

We, like the magi, need to make a choice. Can we sort out the lights? Can we avoid being distracted by the lesser lights? Are we able to see the one light that shines more brightly than all of the other lights? When we see the brightest light, can we lock onto its beam, and follow it always and everywhere, wherever it may lead?

The magi are wonderful examples. They chose one light above all of the other lights, and followed the one true light, and no other. Now is our time to choose as well as they did.

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The Epiphany of the Lord

January 4, 2017

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The Magi versus the Chief Priests and the Scribes

magiThe visit of the magi to Jesus in Bethlehem reveals a deeply disturbing fact:  the chief priests and the scribes did not go to visit Jesus like the magi.  In fact, they conspired with King Herod who wanted to destroy the child.  The chief priests and the scribes were quite unlike the magi, and they are a remarkable study in contrast.

The magi were pagans, Gentiles, non-believers; from Persia, a foreign country to the east; scholars and experts on secular subjects such as medicine, philosophy, and astronomy; belonged to an upper priestly caste; practiced as fortune tellers and magicians; and were ridiculed by ordinary Jews as superstitious, misinformed, and misguided.

On the other hand, the chief priests and scribes were Jews, members of God’s Chosen People; from Israel, the Promised Land; scholars and experts on spiritual subjects such as Scripture, the Law, and the prophets; served as the priests and elders of the Temple; despised fortune telling and magic; and were widely respected by ordinary Jews as holy, devout, and well-informed.

The reaction and response of the magi to the birth of Jesus is shockingly different from the chief priests and the scribes.  When the star appeared in the night sky, the magi noticed the star, were excited about the star, made a clear decision to seek the newborn king of the Jews, followed the star, traveled hundreds of miles, spent weeks or months on the journey, used a portion of their life’s savings to make the trip, brought expensive gifts, consulted with others for additional guidance, and once they found Jesus, they were filled with joy, prostrated themselves before him, paid him homage, and offered him expensive gifts.

On the other hand, the chief priests and the scribes failed to notice the star.  When they learned about the birth of the newborn king of the Jews, they were not excited, they had no desire to go and see the child, they were unwilling to travel five or six miles or to set aside part of a day to make the trip to nearby Bethlehem, spent none of their resources on traveling or gifts, failed to take heed of their own Scriptures regarding the birth of the Messiah, were flat and unaffected, gave Jesus no honor or worship, and presented him with no gifts.

This is a supreme irony.  A positive response to Jesus should have been forthcoming from the religious leaders of Israel, not from pagans from a faraway country.  The outsiders responded and believed.  The insiders were complacent and resisted.

Not only is this contrast shocking, and the response of the chief priests and scribes disappointing, even appalling, it should serve as a warning to us.  Practicing Catholics and regular church-goers would classify themselves as “religious” or “devout.”  This is the same way that the chief priests and scribes described themselves.  Even though they had the advantage of a religious upbringing, knew Scripture, and worshiped regularly, they did not respond to Jesus.  We must avoid their pitfall.  It is important for us to watch for Jesus, pursue him with all our hearts, expend whatever time and energy is needed to go to him, examine the Scriptures for guidance, prostrate ourselves in praise and worship before him, and offer him our finest gifts.

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What the Magi’s gifts mean and how we can give them too

January 6, 2012

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Photo/Catedrales e Iglesias, Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca Licensed under Creative Commons

I can think of more practical gifts for a baby born in a stable than gold, frankincense and myrrh. Some blankets, maybe?  A layette or some diapers? How about a house the Holy Family wouldn’t have to share with animals?  But the wise men were wise enough to see the bigger picture.

To discover the meaning of their expensive gifts, it’s a good idea to learn about the men who gave them. The Western Church has recognized the Magi as Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar since the seventh century. St. Bede most likely wrote this description of them:

The Magi were the ones who gave gifts to the Lord. The first is said to have been Melchior, an old man with white hair and a long beard … who offered gold to the Lord as to a king. The second, Caspar by name, young and beardless and ruddy complexioned … honored Him as God by his gift of incense, an oblation worthy of divinity. The third, black-skinned and heavily bearded, named Balthasar … by his gift of myrrh testified to the Son of Man who was to die.

St Irenaeus wrote that the gifts of the Magi were given to Christ for his offices associated with redemption. The gold was for Christ as King, the frankincense as a symbol of His Deity and the myrrh burial ointment as a symbol of death for the Suffering Redeemer. On another level, St. Irenaeus said the gold signifies virtue; the frankincense, prayer; and the myrrh, suffering.

Church Father Origen wrote of the gifts: “gold, as to a king; myrrh, as to one who was mortal; and incense, as to a God.”

In the ancient world it was protocol to bring gifts to a king or to the object of worship. In 243 BC, a Syrian king offered gold, frankincense and myrrh to the god Apollo. The queen of Sheba brought Solomon gold, spices and precious stones in I Kings 10:2, and Ps. 72 and Is. 60 also speak of bringing gifts to a king.

The gifts were appropriate not just for a king but for God, wrote St. John Chrysostom, comparing them to the traditional Jewish animal offerings. For this reason, the saint believed that the wise men worshiped Jesus as God.

Others assert that the gifts were just Oriental custom and may not have had special meaning. While some say there were three gifts because there were three Magi, Dr. Peter Kreeft finds significance in the number three:

Three wise men, three gifts, three offices (prophet, priest and king), three parts of the human soul (intellect, heart and will) because the Inventor and Designer of man is three. The medieval mind saw Trinitarian echoes everywhere, for a very good reason: Everything is made by the Trinity, and what is made must reflect its Maker.

It is the season for gift-giving, so I considered what gifts I’m bringing to the Baby Jesus. Gold is pretty much out of the question, although I can offer a little cash. Frankincense apparently is in short supply worldwide as the trees the resin is derived from are dying in Ethiopia. I don’t think myrrh would be very easy to come by, either.

A Russian Orthodox church offered some ideas for preparing our own gifts of “gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

  • While gold is the most precious metal, King David said that God’s Word is more precious and desirable. So if we study the bible and meditate on it, we give God a gift more precious than gold.
  • The fragrance of frankincense rises to God, serving as a gift of thanksgiving pleasing to God. If we bring God our gift of thanksgiving, as it says in the Psalms, it would please God more than frankincense.
  • Myrrh is oil containing the aromatic sap of a tree with which kings and high priests were anointed. The word myrrh means bitterness or sorrow. We can bring our own myrrh–sorrow and remorse for our sins–to the Lord.

St. Basil the Great also suggested following the Magi’s lead by offering gifts to God: “Let there be no one without a gift to offer, no one without gratitude as we celebrate the salvation of the world, the birthday of the human race.”

 

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Christians may appreciate sci-fi look at the Magi

January 11, 2011

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Science fiction really isn’t my taste, but this Christmastide I savored an interesting, action-filled novel about the Three Kings.

Probably is best termed historical fiction with leanings toward sci-fi, “Epiphany: The Untold Epic Journey of the Magi” is a terrific read. The sci-fi flavor offers a new take on the old story of the wise men who followed a star and brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus at Bethlehem.

I normally don’t go for stuff about humans with super powers — too much deus-ex-machina for me. But author Paul Harrington doesn’t allow the magic to get in the way of his interesting tale of Melchior, Balthazar and Gaspar and all they ran into as the star led them to the place when they could pay homage to the newborn king of the Jews.

Harrington’s fictionalized version of the travels of the Magi is just that — fiction. Matthew’s Gospel reveals only that the Magi came from the east. But Harrington holds fairly close to the basic storyline in the gospel, and the creativity he adds to the scriptural text does nothing to take away from the birth of Christ and the events the gospel writer saved for posterity.

Put a tickler on your calendar to pick it up next Advent when you’re once again setting up your Nativity Season and take the journey to Jesus with some wise men. — bz

(“Epiphany: The Untold Epic Journey of the Magi” is available at http://www.epiphany-site.com and http://www.Amazon.com)

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Have Yourself a Bloody Little Christmas

July 17, 2008

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“The Spy Who Came for Christmas,”
by David Morrell

Think Rambo having a Christmas Eve change of heart — well, in part at least.

Think a geopolitical way to look at the biblical story of Christ’s birth.

Think terrorism on a snowy stage on the holiest night of the year.

“The Spy Who Came for Christmas” is all of the above. When a planted American spy decides he can’t go along with the latest assignment the Russian Mafia has called on him to carry out — to kidnap a baby, a baby that’s suppose to be a symbol of world peace — the action goes at a pretty crisp pace, for the most part.

There’s Arab bad guys and spousal abuse and alcoholism and Soviet Communism and religion all mixed together in a story that teeter-totters between Christian principles and graphic violence. When this is made into a film — maybe a made-for-TV one at least — there will be blood all over the screen.

The only slow part is when the good-guy spy tells a way-out version of the Journey of the Magi; they become spies for Persia intent of causing disruption of Herod’s rule. Interesting — but gosh does it take a long time to tell.

Calling “The Spy Who Came for Christmas” a page-turner would be a bit of a stretch, and it’s an admittedly okay yarn. But Morrell’s name and Christmas in the title is sure to be a winner in the marketplace. — bz

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