On this The Epiphany of the Lord, I’d like to share with you the profound reality hidden in plain view regarding the Magi and their homage to the Lord.
Readings today: IS 60:1-6; PS 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13; EPH 3:2-3A, 5-6; MT 2:1-12
Generally the Christian community tends to focus on the mystical aspects of the star rising which is not a problem per se but does tend to mask over the basic truth: the Jewish people have fulfilled their mission. Mission accomplished: the Messianic message has been given to the Gentiles. For it is written (Isaiah 60:3):
“[The Gentiles] shall walk in the light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising.”
We can say that Jesus is the visible sign of the consistent and ancient sharing of the good news by the Jewish people through the centuries prior to Jesus’ arrival. Jesus is both attesting to the work of his faithful people and to the future fulfillment of this work in himself.
From Summa Theologica:
I answer that, As stated above (A3,r 1), the Magi are the “first-fruits of the Gentiles” that believed in Christ; because their faith was a presage of the faith and devotion of the nations who were to come to Christ from afar. And therefore, as the devotion and faith of the nations is without any error through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, so also we must believe that the Magi, inspired by the Holy Ghost, did wisely in paying homage to Christ.
How does this come to be?
Throughout the Old Testament the Jewish people brought the good news of the saving power of G-d. Throughout their travels they would speak with faith the ancient stories of Genesis and Exodus of which you are familiar. They had two different audiences. Primarily, the diaspora or dispersed Jewish populations around the known world where they would teach them the ways of the Torah and right living. The secondary audience was the gentile communities. Here too they taught the same lessons. They would teach of the Exodus and how You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God (Lev 18:34).
The concept of righteous gentiles was well established from of old. The Gentles were further taught the 7 Noahide Laws which bind the children of Noah. Right living or righteousness were the central themes taught to the gentiles and that they too should expect the Messiah. Further during major inflection points in Jewish history the Lord uses a Gentile to bring about His will (a useful book reference: http://www.jewishlights.com/page/product/978-1-58023-364-4).
How did this all come about: trade. Jewish traders traveled far and wide long before the time of Jesus. The traders would supply and support the diaspora and trade with all those gentiles who wish to trade. Israel had products to trade as well as particular access to the Egyptian markets and products. Well established southern and northern trading routes were in existence centuries before the coming of the Christ.
The city of Palmira or Palmyra was built by King Solomon (1 Kings 9:18; 2 Chron. 8:4). It was situated about 140 miles northeast of Damascus, on the caravan route between Palestine and the Euphrates. Thus situated, the city was fortified by Solomon to protect his trade routes. In Hebrew, it is called Tadmor.
To the south more trade routes which included portions of sea-routes to India and south east Africa.
The title Magi is based on a Persian word. It is generally accepted that these Magi came from ancient Persia. They came a long way to see for themselves this King!
Witness and Inspiration
It is the diaspora and the Jewish trader who brought the good news (small ‘g’ and small ‘n’ to distinguish) that there is a loving God and He will send the Messiah. This witness together with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit compelled them to travel to Jerusalem to greet and pay homage to the King. I submit to you both are required. It is God’s plan to have us participate in the salvific message and no less so for the Jewish people to be the first to bear the Good News. I think the Magi knew Bethlehem was the place but they were simply asking directions to this suburb of Jerusalem. Herod was clueless.
Gold, Frankincense and myrrh. Usually we associate the frankincense with the temple worship and incensing the Altar. However, from a Persian perspective, frankincense is a healing remedy. It is my opinion that the Persian influence allows us to view the frankincense as a healing remedy (Persian) and as incense for temple worship (Jewish). These three kings are declaring this new born to be a King, the healing remedy of God and the Suffering Servant. Wow! The righteous living of the diaspora and traders would be the witness that proves the promise.
Joseph of Arimathea
Joseph of Gospel fame was most likely a trader. Galilee while principally an agricultural region it s also perfectly situated for trade toward Damascus (east). It is understood that Joseph traded and traveled for and wide. While some would like the British version the more likely is Damascus, Babylon, the east coast of Africa and India. This is still evolving science and archaeology. Artifacts placing 1st century Jews in trade is well established. Jesus, between age 12 and his coming out in public ministry, very likely accompanied Joseph on these trading caravans. Poetically, it is even possible Jesus met the three Kings later in life in their home place (speculative).
Application of the Epiphany in our time should include these observations:
1. Trade, free-trade, is critical.
2. Freedom of religion is critical.
3. Freedom of travel and immigration are critical.
4. Righteous living is essential. It is the preparation for the Messiah.
5. Sharing the promises of a loving God is a mandate for Jews and Gentiles alike.
6. The Messiah is the healing remedy for what ails humanity.
Peace be with you,
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