If on the holy night of Christmas, the birth of the Messiah and Saviour was the Good News announced to the shepherds, now, on the Feast of Epiphany, this Messiah is revealed as Saviour of the entire humankind represented on the Magi who came from the ends of the earth seeking the newborn king of the Jews and of all peoples.
By describing the visit of the Magi, Matthew shows the universal significance of God’s salvation. Even though the Messiah was born in a land which defined his nationality and citizenship, his mission is beyond national and ethnic borders. The Feast of Epiphany testifies to the catholicity of the Messiah’s saving mission signaled by the star that appeared in the East but shines for the whole earth. The Magi’s journey towards the newborn represents the itinerary of all those who thirst for the true light and set on the way to search for it. That’s the itinerary which the entire humankind, sometimes under the domination of many Herods of different times in history, must undertake to find true freedom and liberation.
The Magi’s question: “Where is the newborn king of Jews?” will only be fully answered at the conclusion of the Gospel when Pilate asked Jesus: “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Mt 27:11). It is not the words of Jesus that answer the question, but his way of reigning as a servant of all. On the scene of the Magi’s visit we find a powerful introduction to the entire Gospel of Matthew. However, we can only grasp the deepest meaning of this narrative if we begin from an encounter with the child in the manger in Bethlehem and move towards the way of Calvary, where we see his true triumph and reign on the cross. He is the Shepherd-King who gives his life for his flock.
To proclaim Jesus’ sovereignty one must know his identity and his teachings, otherwise Jesus can be misunderstood in face of worldly kings constituted like Herod. The Gospel itself illustrates moments when the disciples and the people particularly did not understand the meaning of Jesus’ reign as they expected to receive honours and privileges for following him.
Intending to encounter the newborn king of the Jews, the Magi follow the common sense and go to the royal palace. However, there they make a fundamental discovery. Enlightened by the Scriptures, they realized that the Messiah-King was not born at Herod’s palace. He was born in the small town of Bethlehem, at the humble region of shepherds. Therefore, He is a true king, because He is a shepherd. Here is the fundamental difference between Jesus and the kings of the earth.
Herod’s reaction reveals the weakness of his reign, to the point that, together with him, the “whole Jerusalem was disturbed”. In scatological perspective, such agitation is already a sign of the ultimate instauration of God’s kingdom which will take place at the coming of the Son of God in his glory to judge all nations (Mt 25:31). The pharaoh in the time of Moses, noticing the rise and the strengthening of the Hebrews, and fearing to lose his power, commanded the death of male children in order to weaken the people (Ex 2:1). Herod likewise, yesterday and today, feeling threatened by power of life resisting against a culture of death, cowardly decrees the killing of innocent and vulnerable, for they are the easiest prey. Unscrupulously, these tyrants make use of an ideological apparatus to present themselves as benefactors of humanity, but in truth they elaborate strategies and plan of life destruction. They deceive their own victims in order to turn them into the most efficacious instruments for the execution of their evil plans. This was precisely Herod’s intention when he cynically suggested to the Magi: “Go and find out the exact information about the child. And when you him, let me know, so I can also go and pay him homage”. That’s the ideology of the false benefactors of humanity today, infiltrated in national and international organizations which should be concerned about the life of the people and the society. They impose their projects of destruction of true values (family, religion, respect for the life of the unborn and the elderly). with the support of powerful economic groups, the Herods of our time in a cynical and subtle manner instrumentalize groups, society sectors, vulnerable people, religious spaces, pretending to be protectors of their rights. Whereas in fact they disseminate lies about human being, making people even more enslaved and subjected. This is the most efficacious strategy to remain in oppressive power and to guarantee the social and economic status quo.
Christmas celebrations must be more than an opportunity to exchange gifts and mutually express good wishes. In the gifts offered by the Magi (gold, frankincense, and myrrh) we see the conviction of those who believe in truth and do not become convinced by false ideologies. To acknowledge Jesus’ true royalty (gold) is to denounce every kind of tyrant power that oppresses and destroys. The gold offered to Jesus was not turned into a crown or a scepter. Rather, it was precisely all that He offered to enrich us. The frankincense gifted to him became his permanent offering to the Father for our benefit, of which the highest exhalation point was on the wood of the cross. The myrrh which was generously given to him was mixed with his wounded and beaten body; a body which resurrected. This gift served in solidarity with his humanity.
Following the Magi’s example, men whose wisdom was enlightened by revelation (Scriptures, encounter with the Lord), we must identify the ambiguities of the Herods of our time and have the courage to take another road. As the Magi did: “Warned in a dream to not go return to Herod, they went back to their land by another road.” Only this way we will be able to offer our gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Lord of life who does not manipulate us as slaves, but who gives himself to us in order to set us free.