“to announce the Good News of victory in battle”
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated (πεσόντες [pesontes], to fall or to prostrate, an act of worship) themselves
and did him homage (προσεκύνησαν [prosekunēsan], to fall down to worship).
Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.”
(“to perceive, discover, ponder a deeper meaning”)
At this point, one might be tempted to ask the question, “So what?” How does this historic and geographic data serve the message of salvation? Good questions and good responses that help minimize treating the μάγοι (magoi) as ‘just a story.’ I am sure many readers have heard that pronouncement applied to so many episodes in Sacred Scripture. It is dangerous because in the present culture ‘just a story’ translates to ‘not real’ and if ‘not real’ creeps into the perception of Sacred Scripture, the potential for a loss of direction in this life is great. As we saw last week, while many of the people we meet in the Infancy Narratives of Saints Matthew and Luke are important for many reasons, one significant role that all play is that they are teachers of discipleship. The ‘characters’ of the Infancy Narratives teach us how to follow Jesus Christ. No matter what we confidently know or do not know about the μάγοι (magoi) one aspect is certain: the μάγοι (magoi) teach us how to follow Jesus Christ. The magoi teach us how to be disciples of Jesus! So:
μάγοι (magoi) and discipleship lesson #2: Adore the Lord. We often hear at this time of year, “O come let us adore Him.” More than ‘nice words of a Christmas carol,’ the command to adore is living the First Commandment: ‘I am the Lord Your God, you will not have strange gods before Me.’ Adoration is the expression of single-mindedness, single heartedness and purity of heart that are treasured virtues throughout the pages of Scripture that speak of the authentic life of the disciple. When the μάγοι (magoi) entered the house, “They prostrated (πεσόντες [pesontes], to fall or to prostrate) themselves and did him homage (προσεκύνησαν [prosekunēsan], to fall down to worship).” The gesture and posture of prostration express humanity’s identity: a creature dependent on the Creator for all aspects of life. Pope Benedict XVI, in his year-end address to Vatican officials a few years ago, said: “we can do no other than say, with Saint Thomas: my Lord and my God! Adoration is primarily an act of faith – the act of faith as such. God is not just some possible or impossible hypothesis concerning the origin of all things. He is present. And if he is present, then I bow down before him. Then my intellect and will and heart open up towards him and from him. In the risen Christ, the incarnate God is present, who suffered for us because he loves us. We enter this certainty of God’s tangible love for us with love in our own hearts. This is adoration, and this then determines my life.”
μάγοι (magoi) and discipleship lesson #3: Go home by a different route. There can be no other way for a disciple to traverse life than to do it differently. Because one is led by the Lord, because one falls down and worships the Lord in adoration life logically must be different for the disciple. This is the Hebrew experience of qadosh (qedesh, Hebrew that is translated ‘set apart,’ ‘different’ or ‘holy’). When Isaiah sang, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts,” he was recognizing a fundamental difference between himself and God. In western culture we tend to be somewhat skittish about holiness thinking improperly that one might appear better than someone else. Holiness is not about ‘better.’ It is a grace-enabled act of the will whereby one accepts the difference that life must be when one says “yes” to the Father’s will. The journey home – ultimately the eternal experience of salvation – cannot be a route “I” plan and execute as if “I” were obtaining directions from Google Maps or a vehicle’s GPS. It can only be a route whose directions have been planned by Another — the God and Father of us all — for the good of everyone’s salvation in this life and in the life to come.