In this section
The light of Faith
The star you know, whilst it may have been a genuine astronomical event, is seen in the prayers of mass at least as a symbol of the gift of faith, the gift of God's love that both leads us to recognise Christ our Saviour and guides us on our pilgrim journey through this life to our eternal meeting with God. The gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh are seen as recognising the baby Jesus as King, God and one who must suffer.
Yet this episode is so full of symbolism. The Wise Men of course represent the gentiles, the pagans, the non- Jews, us, a fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah that we just proclaimed. 'The nations come to your light - the Kings to your dawning brightness' God's love is so great that his promises, his presence, cannot be restricted to just one people but overflow onto the whole world.
Interestingly the idea grew up too that they were three because they represented the three known continents at that time, Africa, Asia and Europe. And then because the imagination driven by love is always creative the three came to be seen as representing Youth, Maturity and Old Age as if to say there's no obstacle to encountering Christ.
Magi's act of worship
It's because they are not Jews that the wise men ask where is the 'King of the Jews' any Jew would say where is the 'king of Israel'. But they say 'King of the Jews' a phrase we will not hear again until the crucifixion when Pilate, another non-Jew, puts a notice on the cross saying 'the king of the Jews'. So, by saying 'King of the Jews' the Wise Men point, even as they gaze at the baby, at the cross. The wood of the manger is the wood of the cross. In this world, as Jesus makes clear you cannot have love without suffering, but the suffering itself is an act of love, a proof of love.
So, by saying 'King of the Jews' the Wise Men point, even as they gaze at the baby, at the cross. The wood of the manger is the wood of the cross. In this world, as Jesus makes clear you cannot have love without suffering, but the suffering itself is an act of love, a proof of love.
The Wise men do him Homage. The word used implies prostration on the ground. Its extravagant, rather like the gifts they bring, we might say some nappies, some food and a bit of cash might be more practical, but this is about worship. There is a time to be practical, but not standing before God. The Wise men suggest how we should be at Mass when we stand before God.
Finally reading this we have to ask 'where is St Joseph?'. Matthew tells the nativity story from the point of view of St Joseph. He is always there, dreaming, being visited by an angel, wondering at the things the shepherds say, leading the family's escape into Egypt. Where is he in this episode? There is no convincing answer. Some say that Matthew is emphasising the particular relationship between Jesus and his Mother, between the baby the Kings recognise as God and the Mother of God, but as I say there is no convincing answer. My own view is that it might just show that Matthew is relating the story exactly as he heard it. On that occasion when the Kings visited Joseph was not there. Maybe he was out working, on a journey, the Wise men's visit was perhaps hurried, after all the whole of Jerusalem was perturbed, they may have had an idea that Herod was up to something, they couldn't wait and so St Joseph missed the visit and Matthew didn't feel the need to invent his presence.
Today was always a 'little Christmas' in my family. Just before leaving for Mass we said a prayer and put the three Kings in the crib, when we got back Mum and Dad had kept an extra Christmas present for us and we had a special meal. Many families still do this and I recommend it to you.