The Lesson of the Magi

The episode about the Magi visiting the infant God in our flesh is more about us, than the songs of the angels and the visit of the shepherds that we heard on Christmas day. St Gregory reminds us that the angels announced Christ to Jewish shepherds, but now we see men like us—non-Jews, coming from diverse backgrounds, walking by faith, pinning hopes to signs and sacraments, journeying to meet God where He is.

And look at how much these Magi are like us! They make life-changing moves, which friends and family question. They sound like Utopian dreamers, more interested in life with God than life on earth. And they talk about life as a journey in order to walk with God, and be with God, and talk with God.

And they’re more like us than we want to admit. For these Magi know that in order to change the world it is necessary to have power. Yet they mistake the power of governments and movements as the place of power, rather than Christ Jesus, whom God anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power so that Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God. So not protests or demonstrations, not elections or policy makers, not working to make a difference with global concerns—none of these things are true power. True power is the gospel of Christ: for the Gospel He is, is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who has faith.

But like the Magi, we tend to get caught up in the power that everyone else talks about. And so these men of faith follow the wrong path, and steer themselves in the wrong direction; because they thought that a powerful child would be nowhere else but in a King’s palace. What they had to learn—and what we must never forget—is that humility, God in diapers, the Son of God in a rude cave, and above all else, this Child on the cross is foolishness to those caught up in speaking truth to power; but to us who are being saved these easily overlooked marks of humility and humiliation are the true power of God. For Christ comes into the world to fill His cross with the power that does more than empower the poor and disenfranchised—it empties tombs and lets us sit with God our Father in heavenly places!

At first, the Magi lost their way because they thought their journey was about seeking and partaking in new politics, a new world order, a new kingdom of God on earth. It is about that, but not like we tend to think. Only when we, with the Magi, see that the journey is an inner pilgrimage, something that changes us within our soul—only then do we see life differently. Only then do we see Life Himself.

So the Magi had to change their ideas about power. They had to turn away from powerful men and women, and instead seek the Life that empower you, me, and all humanity. The Magi had to stop looking at the trappings of power, and begin to see Christ, the Life of all the living; the One who says, apart from Me, you can do nothing; and unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you have no life in you.

These Magi truly hungered and thirsted after justice—and godliness, peace, meaning, truth—everything that is wrapped up in the word “righteousness.” They truly wanted to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; so that they could be renewed and reinvigorated to live now, toward the world to come. And so they left home and family, searching diligently for the newborn King, the Child they could lavish with not just expensive gifts but with heartfelt adoration.

What do these Magi teach us, then? To seek this King, we need to set off on a journey like theirs.

Deep within themselves they felt prompted to go in search of the true justice that can only come from God, and they wanted to serve this King, to fall prostrate at his feet and so play their part in the renewal of the world. They were among those “who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” This hunger and thirst spurred them on in their pilgrimage—they became pilgrims in search of the justice that they expected from God, intending to devote themselves to its service. (Benedict XVI, 2005)

In the same way, deep within our soul, where hope is palpable, where faith comes alive—in our soul we need to resolve to lay aside all earthly cares so that we can be true pilgrims who search for Life Himself, the wisdom and power of God, the vulnerable infant Jesus, the Jesus who comes down to sit with us in our darkest moments, the Jesus who speaks us into warmth and peace, and the Jesus on the cross who shows us that real power lies in living without fear because the tomb and the grave no longer control or dominate us.

That’s the example of these Magi.

They changed their ideas about power, about God and about man, and in so doing, they also changed themselves. Now they were able to see that God’s power is not like that of the powerful of this world. God’s ways are not as we imagine them or as we might wish them to be.

God does not enter into competition with earthly powers in this world. He does not marshal his divisions alongside other divisions. God did not send 12 legions of angels to assist Jesus in the Garden of Olives. He contrasts the noisy and ostentatious power of this world with the defenseless power of love, which succumbs to death on the Cross and dies ever anew throughout history; yet it is this same love which constitutes the new divine intervention that opposes injustice and ushers in the Kingdom of God. (Benedict XVI, 2005)

God is different—this is what the Maji come to believe. God is different—that is also what we are invited to see.

God is more different than we imagine Him; He is more different how we shape Him to be in our own minds. God is different because only God becomes who we truly are, especially in those moments when we hate ourselves. God becomes us, even then, so that we might be filled with a love that chases away self-loathing, anxiety, fear, and the need to control. God in Christ carries us, so that we now can carry Him just as the Holy Mother carried Him—in her heart as well as in her arms.

The Magi show us how different God is as they see Him nestling up to His mother, cooing at His St Joseph, unafraid and yet unable to scare. This different God now means that they themselves must now become different. They must learn God’s ways.

What saves the world is not policies or programs or even lifestyle changes. These things come about as a result—only after we adore and pin our hopes to the Christ Child in the manger. For what alone saves the world is a return to the living God, our Creator, who is the pledge of our freedom, and the sacrament of what is really good and true. “True revolution consists in simply turning to God who is the measure of what is right and who at the same time is everlasting love.” (Benedict XVI 2005) And there is nothing else that can ever save us except the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord; to whom, with His Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.