The Magi and the Theophany/Epiphany

The Journey of the Magi - Tissot

I have always been intrigued by the Wise Men in the birth narrative of the Messiah. They are, among all of those who appear inthe story, in a class by themselves. The rest seem, to me, to quite reasonably belong in the story. But, the Wise Men? The prophecy in Isaiah 60.1-7 speaks of them. In spite of the fact that there were plenty of people from others nations in the region of Palestine at the time, there was a specific need, in God’s economy, for them. What attribute did they possess that made them necessary to the narrative?

Well, there are a BUNCH of theories out there about the identity and role of these guys‼ Everything from the descendents of the Hebrew rabbis from the Babylonian exile, to Brahmans from India or Zoroastrian priests who Jesus later visited and learned from during His “hidden years‼” Yikes.

Who were the Magi – the “Wise Men,” most likely?  They were, perhaps, “sacred scribes,” who studied historical and sacred writings. The ancient Magi were priests/astrologers or spiritual advisors who were credited with great spiritual wisdom for the practical administration of the kingdom in the Median court. (Pharaoh had them in his court too. Remember Moses duel with them?) The Median court had Magi. Darius the Great established them over the state religion of Persia. Later, the Babylonians took power over the Mede-Persian Empire. At the time of Jesus’ birth this area was ruled by the Parthian Empire. Perhaps they were from Sheba. The prophecy does mention Sheba. And, the Queen of Sheba was a seeker after truth (I kings 10.1-13). Whoever they were, they had credentials. They carried weight. Herod received them without question and was deeply persuaded that something of historical importance had taken place.

Mysterious and definintely impressive characters to be sure and rightly so.

So why the Magi from the Parthian Empire? Theological and human reasons. The Magi represent, theologically, all that is wise and powerful in this world. The Magi were rich, famous, regarded as possessors and guardians of wisdom. But, the Magi represent, on a personal level, the genuine seeker of this world who, in spite of the wealth, and power, and wisdom, know there is more and yearn for it.

Perhaps, in the beginning, the journey of the Magi had to do with philosophical/religious curiosity. After all, they were seekers after the truth. Reminds me of the Greeks who said to the Apostles, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Whatever the reason, even though they were rich and famous it did cost them. Time, energy, money, potentially their lives, potentially their reputations, and the validity of their own religious beliefs. Whatever the reason, they put it all on the line for sake of fulfilling their desire to see and know. It was, for the Wise Men, an authentic spiritual pilgrimage. The homage they offered was not nominal or token. It was from the heart from which their yearning issued and was met and fulfilled in Jesus.

Speaking of the Wise Men, the author of the wonderful little volume, Christ the Vision, says the following:

“The light shines within them, enabling them to see beyond the swaddling clothes, the silence and the utter poverty. The Star had entered into their hearts, and it allowed them to see with a new light; he divine light shone through all the men dispersed.” (pg. 13)

The Wise Men we meet in the New Testament had persevered in following the leading of the star. As a result of this authentic perseverance, perhaps, that which was external to them and the result of mere philosophical curiosity, had, mysteriously, become internalized and the result of a deep and inextinguishable heart-felt yearning for fulfillment.

The Magi had, perhaps, become those who no longer desired to “looked at and grasp at” power, wealth, and worldly wisdom and be satisfied. They had become, as a result of their journey and journey’s end in Christ, men who were able to “looking into and deeply receive” real truth and wealth and power and authority. They had become men who could truly see. The visitation of the Wise Men is not an example of an interfaith gathering in which everybody affords to one another encouragement to “find their own path.” Remember, a pilgrimage is kind of a “one way trip” in terms of faith and way of life. A true pilgrimage is, by definition, a journey of transformation. Forever changed. You come back different than you were, in some significant way, when you left.

Epiphany/Theophany season is one in which we are encouraged and exhorted to become, by the grace of the Holy Spirit men and women who live lives characterized by the capacity and practice of looking into the depths of circumstances and persons and responding to the hidden Christ made manifest by their perseverance. Epiphany/Theophany is an invitation to be changed by what we are invited to see.

Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened to you. Ask and it will be given. Those who have eyes to see, let them see. Epiphany/Theophany is not just about being “wowed” by the glory of God. It is about being changed – transformed – by the Epiphany/Theophany.

Lord, heal my blindness by the light of your glory shining upon it and piercing through it making contact with the desire to see that resides deep within …

Fr. Thomas

2 thoughts on “The Magi and the Theophany/Epiphany

  1. Good stuff. This Advent I become captivated with these guys – somehow I had rarely considered them before. Would love to hear more about your thoughts on this piece of the story.

    Peace to you.

  2. One of the things I think about is the scene when the Magi actually arrived. We get the impression that Jesus was about 2 years old at the time. Those guys must have stood out like a sore thumb ! ! I wonder what the neighbors must have thought when they showed up ? ? ! ! Wow. What a scene and what a commotion…

    Fr. Thomas

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