· Meditation ·
“Jesus was born in Bethlehem”. The good news we hear on the Feast of the Epiphany, a manifestation of the Lord to all people, begins with the simple announcement of a birth set in space and in time. Every life begins like this and every life is renewed in contemplating a scion of man appearing in the weft of history.
Jesus’ birth was recognized as extra-ordinary, according to Luke, by some shepherds (cf. Lk 2:1-20) and, in our passage according to Matthew, by some “wise men” who came from the East: from the land where the sun rises people came in search, men who scrutinized the heavens in order to understand their own earthliness, seekers of meaning, lovers guided by a star, indeed by “his” star, the star that was capable of orienting and ordering their desire for life towards the One who is life, the sun “from on high” (Luke 1;78), “the bright morning star” (Rev 22:16).
Having arrived in Jerusalem, the Magi asked Herod, King of Judaea, where the “King of the Jews” had been born: the Magi wanted to adore him, whereas Herod was shaken, he felt supplanted (cf. the Massacre of the Innocents unleashed by his furious rage in Mt 2:13-18).
“And lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was”. The Magi had followed this star since its rising: they had set out together, as the first of the disciples who were subsequently to follow Christ,leaving their security, the knowledge that they had acquired, their familiar itineraries, in order to follow not their own ideas, intuitions or emotions but the star, the source and fount of their desire, of their yearning. “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (cf. Mt 2:10). The star came to rest, it had reached its destination. And the Magi were bursting with joy, a joy that is life overflowing: they were reaching for the treasure that the star had held in store for them, the treasure towards which the star had accompanied them on their long, long journey. Then they entered intimacy of the domestic scene with bated breath before the frailty of a newborn life. “They saw the child with Mary his mother”. And Leo the Great comments: “They saw a silent, tranquil child, entrusted to the care of his mother; in him appeared no outward sign of his powers; instead he offered to their sight one great miracle: his humility”. Jesus immediately took on the features of lowliness, a humble and disarming simplicity.
Once they found the Child, what did the Magi do, those seekers from a distant land? They prostrated themselves and adored him – it was for this reason that they had set out. Adoring means lifting to the lips, kissing, putting oneself in a communion of breathing, of living and of loving. Here, at the beginning of the Gospel according to Matthew, it is the Magi who prostrate themselves, who kneel before Jesus, who look at him from below; just as at the end we find the eleven disciples who, despite their doubts, were to prostrate themselves before the Risen One who sent them out to “make disciples of all nations”, making even the distant close to us, for the Emmanuel whose birth was proclaimed (cf. Mt 1:23) is the God-with-us “to the close of the age” (cf. Mt 28:16-20). The Magi prostrated themselves, they adored him and opened their caskets, preserved and reserved for this goal, for this joy. They offered him gold, a symbol of his kingship, a spendour different from that of every earthly power, and incense, a symbol of his divinity, a fragrance that rises on high, filling the air, and myrrh, a symbol of his Passion, of his mortality. Our narrative ends with this profusion of gifts, not without telling us that the Magi, being warned in a dream (hence, in biblical language, by God) “not to return to Herod... departed to their own country by another way” The route taken by these heralds of hope unfolds new paths of life, anchored to the brightness of that star, to the warm light of that child who was born “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:79).
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