Pagan Magi retained a sense of wonder

Maria Kozakiewicz

WORD MADE FLESH

Epiphany – January 4, 2014
Isaiah 60.1-6 | Psalm 72 | Ephesians 3.2-3­, 5-6 | Matthew 2.1-12
December 29, 2014

The star of Bethlehem, which shines in the Gospel of Epiphany, has long puzzled me.

The ancient pagans of both East and West believed in oracles, dreams and prophetic utterances. They believed that gods communicate with people through nature and that the stars are part of this mysterious language as they may predict events to come.

Thousands of years before Jesus was born, sign interpretation became a specialized art. Most of it was obviously fraud. Popular forms of divination were rejected by the Jewish faith, although it admitted the existence of some God-inspired individuals and a few God-sent dreams.

In view of what we know about ancient diviners and astrologers, it is striking that the Magi made the great effort to come Bethlehem uninvited.

The roads were dangerous, and one did not leave the safety of home unless absolutely required. As non-Jews, they were under no obligation to watch the stars for predictions for this small country.

Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. – Isaiah 60.3

'Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.'

Isaiah 60.3

Many royal children were born in small kingdoms around them. True, there was an ancient law or custom that any unusual prediction or dream regarding one's ruler was to be written down and sent to the court. Herod, however, was not their king.

These old men – you did not become an expert in astrology overnight – did not have to risk their lives on desert and mountain roads.

All they had was a vague promise of a wonderful meeting with a king's newborn child. They had no guide other than the star and common sense.

No Gospel told them about Jesus, no tradition or Church guided them, no sacraments sustained them. They were pagans. They could not know that Jesus was the Saviour and it was only through him that any human could be saved.

All they had was their knowledge of astrology learned over years, a mix of truth and superstition – and they had the God-sent star.

How amazing was their hunger for God! How tragic is my own lack of such hunger!

I have the same Jesus present for me in the tabernacle of my parish church. I know him as Saviour. I know the story of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and I have read the Gospels several times.

He dies on the altar for me at every Mass, and he comes to my heart in the Holy Communion. Why is my heart so unfeeling?

What I have lost over the long years of my life, spent on struggling with everyday life or acquiring human knowledge, is the sense of wonder, the characteristic of children, saints – and the Magi.

It is from the sense of wonder that a hunger for God is born. It enables one to stop worrying about earthly matters, drop everything and follow the Bethlehem Star, expecting "wonders untold" and joy everlasting. If wonder is lost, it is the sign that love is lost and must be regained.

It is time to return to the first love.