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Christmas and the Visit of Magi

by Fr. T. George, Ireland

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:

 6 " 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
      are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
      for out of you will come a ruler
      who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"

 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."

 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

St. Mathew 2: 1-12.

The birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem was an epoch making chapter in the history of mankind. It happened to be the appearance of spiritual truth which shed light to the whole world. Jesus Christ came to this world as an embodiment of divine light that enlightens all those who fumble in darkness of evil. He came as the love that eradicates hatred and the energy that enables people to live a better life (St. John 1:9).

In the gospel of Mathew 2, we read of the journey of Magi to Bethlehem. Tradition holds that the wise men from East were three in number known by the names as Melchoir, Casper, and Balthazar and they were from Persia, Egypt and India. The legends related to the ancient church - St. Mary's Syrian Orthodox Valiyapally at Piravom near Cochin -also known as `Rajakkanmarude pally' shed light into the relation of Magi with India. They were astrologers who had the special skill of discerning the signs and changes in the constellation. God- the all knowing- set a silver star for guiding them to Jesus Christ- the Sun of righteousness (Malachi 4:2, Mathew 13:43) Light of Light, very God of very God (John 1:4, 5:18, 12:35- 37 1 John 1; 5-7). Every science including astrology leads us to the real living God.

The birth of Christ happened in a time when people all over the world were awaiting a saviour who was capable of saving them from the clutches of Satan- from the bondage of sin (St Luke 2:25-38). The Brigadaranyakopanisad 1:3:28 reads thus: "Asathoma Sat Gamaya, Thamsoma Jyothirgamaya, Mrithyoma Amritham Gamaya" (Kindly lead us from untruth to truth, from darkness to light, and from death to immortality).It is obvious from this celebrated prayer that our forefathers in the far east-India- also had been looking forward for some one who is capable of leading them from darkness to light, from untruth to truth, and from death to immortality. Therefore, Christ and Christmas in a way are relevant to the people of Hindustan as well. Christ and Christmas are not limited to Christians alone but the joy of Christmas and the salvation of Christ are extended to people all over the world. The angel of God proclaimed this universality when he announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds "Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news (Gospel) of great joy for all the people ; to you is born this day in the city of David a saviour who is the Messiah, the Lord (St. Luke 2:10-11).

Therefore, Christmas- which is the celebration of the birth of Christ- is a journey in search of light, a journey in search of truth, a journey in search of immortality, a journey in search of a living God who is worthy to be worshipped. It is a festival of light and its radiance is not confined to any particular day or a particular area but sustains to everywhere and for everyday. This is why we celebrate Christmas every year. The quest of the Magi was to find a person who is worthy to be worshipped. Their purpose of journey was to offer a true worship to the living God. It is clear from their words as said in Mat 2:2, "We have come to worship Him". It was a God- oriented journey for the realisation of their lives' goal. They must have taken much pain and strain in reaching the infant Jesus who was full man and full God. It is to be remembered that they made all their way down to Bethlehem at a time when the means of transportation and technology was not so advanced as of today.

We see that they brought very precious gifts for Jesus. Gold, Myrrh and Frankincense; all represented Christ's three fold ministries a three essential commodities relative of three ministries such as Royal hood, Priesthood, and Godhood. Gold, a royal element, offered to him was to indicate his royal hood (Psalms 45:9-14, St. Luke 1:33). Frankincense, an element used in religious rituals, was indicative of his priesthood. Myrrh, an element usually used at the time of burial was to indicate the importance of Christ's unique death (John 19:39, Mark 14:3-9). Myrrh-a sweet smelling resin- served as a medicine. (Mark 15:23) was indicative of the healing power of Jesus proving his divinity. All healing comes from God. (Psalms 103:3, Exodus 15:26). Frankincense indicates Christ's holiness as a priest (Hebrew 7:26). Myrrh indicates Christ's eternity as God. Gold indictes his mightiness as King of Kings (Rev. 19:16).This proves of Jesus' divinity - a holy God, an almighty God and an immortal God (Isaiah 9:8). This coming of Magi to Bethlehem was the fulfilment of the prophecy recorded in Isaiah 60:6.

What is our attitude when we offer anything at the time of worship? Are we able to honestly set apart our tithe for the church related activities? How much effort we take up when we are to offer worship at the church? The Magi might have taken nearly two long years and travelled a long distance from their respective places to reach Bethlehem to offer their worship and that too all in their limitations. Are we able to find at least two hours in spending inside the church for worship? Aren't we reluctant to attending service on Sundays and on important liturgical occasions because of the hectic schedule of lives that we all are unfortunately involved in nowadays? We must learn from them how we should be in taking effort to attending our Sunday worship in our churches even when we have plenty of amenities. Let us see what God wants us to do through prophet Malachi: "Bring the full amount of your tithes to the Temple, so that there will be plenty of food there. Put me to the test and you will see that I will open the windows of heaven and pour out on you in abundance all kinds of good things". (Malachi 3:10).

On their way to find Jesus they happened to meet King Herod. They made their search in the palace of King Herod for Jesus but they could not find him there. Jesus was not found in the comfort of herodian luxury. Even king Herod did not know of Jesus' whereabouts though Jesus was born under his nose. However hard he tried, he could not find Jesus in his area. Because it is said that only one who is pure in heart can see God. (Mathew 5:8). Jesus is revealed to one who makes a personal endeavor in seeking Christ. Jesus would never be in a place where arrogance of power and wealth rule the roost. Instead, he is found only a house of humility and simplicity. He is manifested to one who earnestly seeks Him. The question, "Where is the baby born to be the king of the Jews"? , still echoes in our ears. Are we able to find Jesus in our lives? If Christ is not born in our hearts, our celebrations of Christmas become meaningless.

The Star of the East that guided the Magi to infant Jesus stands here as a sign and symbol. The symbols used in our liturgy are meant to lead us all to the vicinity of God -the transcendent. We read in this passage that the wise men were so happy seeing the star. (Verse 10) Are we happy when we see the symbols in our church? And when they reached the house where Jesus had been to, they prostrated before him, worshipped him, and offered to Him what they had brought. This is the real mode of worship and it is a point to be noted that these three form part of our orthodox liturgy. Yet another point to be noted is that Jesus was seen along with his mother St. Mary in his house. Here comes the relevance of St. Mary in our liturgy.

Finally we read in the passage that they were asked not to turn back to Herod. Instead, they straight away went back to their own home. After seeing Jesus- the real God- no one needs to revisit Herodian palace on one's spiritual journey. After accepting Christ, we are supposed to give up our old life style and are bound to lead holy and austere life- a life totally different from that of the secular world. Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17).

On this first Sunday after Christmas, let us prepare ourselves for Christ to come to our lives. Let us find some space in our personal lives for him to born and dwell in our hearts. Let us set off a spiritual journey- a pilgrimage- in search of Christ and worship Him in truth and spirit with everything that we have with us. Let us usher in the New Year with a renewed hope and aspirations. Let us enter into the year 2008 with new hopes and good determinations. Let the years to come be brighter than the yesteryears. May the good God who was born for us sinners, bless us with his very presence.

See Also:

Christmas and the Visit of Magi
In Christ, we see not only that God is with us, but that He has always been with us. God has "summed up" or "recapitulated" all things in Christ: Christ "gathers up" into His life all the experience of creation.

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