Where’s Everyone Else?
The arrival of the Magi before the Divine Infant, presenting their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh should rightfully take center stage on the feast of the Epiphany. The gifts are most fitting, of course, acknowledging the Infant to be the King, Priest, and Savior that He is.
And we can imagine the excitement of the Magi as they set out on their journey.
But we should not think that this was a thoughtless trip; years of preparation for all three of them went into this. They had heard of a prophecy – perhaps from their youth – of an Infant to be born who would be the King of the Jews and who would free them from a bondage that went beyond the political realm, a true Messiah in every sense whose influence and impact would actually extend well beyond one nation or people. This would have originated with the prophet Daniel during the Babylonian captivity, as he was put in charge of all the wise men of the kingdom.
So these Magi disciplined their minds and their lives to be sensitive to the signs that would indicate fulfillment of this prophecy. And with the passing of those centuries since Daniel, there was much expectation within the ranks that the fulness of time just may be on hand for the appearance of the “Long Expected of the Nations.” And these three Magi were ready.
Evidently, the star that was sent was no ordinary celestial occurrence; they were touched by a divine light to know this was the sign for them, and so they summoned their respective caravans and set out quickly.
How different from celestial manifestation given to the Jewish shepherds, to whom angels appeared with an announcement of great joy about where to find their Infant Savior! Instead, these Magi – representatives of the Gentiles – set out to follow a light that would guide them, all the while not knowing exactly what to expect when they finally arrived to pay homage to an Infant King.
Yet that does not mean that they did not have some expectations; after all, they were well-accustomed to the pomp and splendor of their Eastern homelands, so they naturally had in mind what would best befit an Heir to a throne, let alone One who fulfills an ancient prophecy. In all likelihood, though, they would have met with caution and resistance from some in their circles: the journey was long; things were uncertain – why be troubled over the prophecies of an alien religion; why give up the comfort and status of their respective stations – they may lose some credibility and influence; was it really that important to search out some foreign monarch?
But their faith stood steadfast and they went anyway, presenting us all perhaps with a hard lesson about what sincere faith should look like in the face of all-too-worldly objections.
As their journey progressed, no doubt their expectations grew, but the poor conditions of the Manger would have been the furthest thing from their minds! The star – His star as they called it – had proved to be a loyal companion. Providence had brought the three together for a common cause, and so their constant conversation would have been about the matter at hand. And so their excitement grew as the star led them towards Jerusalem. How could they not expect to find shared excitement when they arrived there? These Magi, these wise men from the East, were in the midst of the fulfillment of the greatest prophecy ever.
Certainly this would be the only talk of the town. Certainly there would be great crowds of Jews looking to just get a glimpse of the Messiah. Certainly, there would be celebration like never before.
But where is everyone else?!
This is quite bizarre, quite the unexpected blow. It is business as usual…everywhere.
Perhaps with some bewilderment (we are in Jerusalem, correct, not Seattle?), they found King Herod’s palace, made their entrance, and announced their intention: Where is He that is born, the King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to adore Him. (Mt. 2:2)
But it is business as usual there, too. What is going on, or more to the point, what is not going on?
Does anyone know? Does anyone care? Who missed the memo? Perhaps it had some resemblance to an old Western movie, that part when the cowboy enters the saloon and the piano music suddenly stops, leaving this heavy silence with everyone awkwardly looking at each other. As a spiritual writer astutely observes: To find the people of the Holy City utterly ignorant of the great event which had drawn them from the remote East must have been a rude shock, and must have had a chilling effect on the warmth of their imaginations.
Behold the first New Testament confrontation between the casual (or cultural) religious observer and those who consciously and conscientiously try to live the Faith in all charity. The inconsolable cries of Rachel are beginning to echo in the distance.
Confronted with this royal embassy, threatened by the reality, at Herod’s command an embarrassed flutter of activity follows among the chief priests and scribes to make up for the centuries of sleeping through class. In Bethlehem of Juda they determine was where our Lord was to be born. (cf. Mt. 2:4-5)
Interesting how the star, His star, first brings the Magi to Jerusalem, the custodian of the prophecy concerning the Messiah, for them to learn where Christ was to be. It is further interesting that the star disappears while this takes place. Perhaps God, in His mercy and in His desire to arouse faith in those “enlightened by birth,” as unworthy or careless as they may have been, used them to enlighten these already enlightened Magi on this one point. Only afterwards does it appear again to lead these faithful Magi to Bethlehem, finding its rest over the Manger.
But why would not King Herod and his embassy accompany them? Why not make an announcement to everyone in the kingdom of the wonderful news? Why not deck the halls and have a grand procession from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to greet their newborn King and Savior? Is not the star, His star, visible for all to see? Where is everyone else?
It seems then that the role of the Magi goes well beyond the gifts they present to Jesus at the Manger, as important and as significant as those are.
On this Epiphany, ponder their gift of Faith, their resoluteness in action, and the challenge they present to us all to live daily more consciously and conscientiously as stars that can lead souls to Him. God will do His part to let us know where everyone else is.
January 6, 2021