Friday, January 12, 2018

The Magi and Star in Old Testament prophecies

Fr. Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" (Assumption Grotto News, January 7, 2018)
The wonders of Epiphany seem never to end for me. I thought I had pretty well combed this fascinating story with its menacing subplot in years past. It is a narrative replete with supernatural unfolding and malicious intrigue. Here are a few "new" things about Epiphany that I never considered before, as far as I can recall, in my sermons of years past.

The Magi. It's become theologically "correct" not to speak of the three "kings" since nowhere in the Gospel are they said to be kings, but rather magi ("wise men" would be an acceptable expression). They may have been mere governors of some small eastern lands. However, there is a prophecy from (Vulgate) Psalm 71 which indicates that "Kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts; the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute. All kings shall pay homage, all nations shall serve Him." In keeping to this term "kings" we see a drama unfolding among the various kings: these magi "kings," King Herod, and the King-of-Kings, Christ. The number of magi is not specified in the Gospel. Three is taken to be their number on account of their three gifts. It may have been that several such men each brought with him the three gifts, rather than one gift by each of three. Magi they were nevertheless, that is, men who studied the heavens for knowledge. They must have known the Hebrew scriptures and the prophesies about the birth of their Messiah as well since they will ask upon their arrival in Jerusalem about the whereabouts of the newborn king of the Jews. It's remarkable that these men would have simultaneously had knowledge of who Christ was (Messiah, Son of God and man), and the time of His birth, and had met each other from their various lands and made their united way to Judea to see Christ. It's probable that angels informed them of all these things, though the scriptures are silent on this. The appearance of the star gave the men the direction needed for their way.

The Star. In the Book of Numbers there is a prophecy: "A star shall advance from Jacob (=Israel)" and in Isaiah it is told that by Jerusalem's light kings would walk (Is. 60), bearing gold and frankincense, and that caravans of camels would fill the land. The idea of a light leading people on a journey is familiar from the Exodus wherein God guided the path of the people through the desert either by a cloud or by a pillar of fire. That was a miraculous light. Similarly, one may reason that the star leading the magi was a miraculous star, made for the purpose, and not one of the existing heavenly bodies, a star which shone both day and night and whose light moved indicating direction. In the end, the star "stood over the place" where the infant was.

Bethlehem. It was another prophecy, from Micah, that identified Bethlehem as the birth place of the Messiah to be. (One might have otherwise thought it to be Jerusalem.) It's a marvel to contemplate that Mary and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem only on account of a decree of Caesar Augustus -- a pagan -- ordering a census, without which our Lord's birth would have taken place in Nazareth, according to the natural course of events.

Faith. The magi had Christian faith: they adored Christ. It had to be by a divine revelation (by an angel?) that they know the identity of this Infant. This faith led them to great acts: leaving home, parting with their treasures to serve as gifts, traveling goodly distances, and adoring the God-man upon seeing Him.

Other things. The visit of the magi certainly must have included much talk among all persons in the cave. None of this has been recorded. One wonders about what was said and done those days (one presumes a stay of some days after the journey). We would like to now some of that holy conversation.

While the Star has dissolved, the light of the Catholic faith with all its guiding truth remains for us. Our Lady too is a star, the Star of the Sea, who shows us the sure way to Christ. The star's progression to Bethlehem is a lesson about the advancement in faith -- from first beginnings even unto spiritual perfection by practicing the virtues. In this sense, the Epiphany story is replicated in every Christian's life.

Fr. Perrone

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