As we enter the fourth week of Advent, we will look at the final group of people called to adore the infant Christ, the magi. There is a lot of mystery surrounding the magi. Who they were, where they came from, and what their belief system was, is not explicitly explained in Scripture or taught by the Magisterium. In the Acts of the Apostles, there is a reference to a magus (the Latin singular of magi) named, Simon, who was a practitioner of magic. However, this could apply to many cultures and philosophical belief systems. There isn’t even a clear indication of how many there were, but early Church fathers say three, which is likely influenced by the three gifts Jesus received – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Tradition gives them the names Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.
Despite all the mystery surrounding the magi, we don’t need any more information about them than what we have, in order to understand who and what they represent in the context of coming to adore Jesus as the Savior of the World. Matthew tells us they were “wise” and when they saw the star announcing His birth, they followed it to go and worship Him (Mt. 2:1-2). In Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Pope Benedict XVI tells us what it means to be a wise man who sets out to find Jesus. To be wise is to seek TRUTH – truth in philosophy, truth in science, and truth in religion. It is to step out of your own narrow perspective of truth as you have defined or accepted it, and to seek truth as it actually is. To be wise is to seek a fullness of truth and understanding. Benedict also states that the magi would not have set out to seek Jesus had they not been a “people of inner unrest, people of hope, people on the lookout for the true star of salvation.” In other words, had they been satisfied with their own idea of truth and spiritual practices, they would have had no inner pull or desire to seek out the Newborn King. Think of all the people in your life who always seem to be seeking more. The Catechism affirms this, telling us, “The desire of God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.” (CCC #27). In other words, the soul is wired to seek out truth and will never truly rest until it rests in God. The magi were wise, in that they were willing to humble themselves to receive and adore the real truth, as opposed to continuing to seek it in things that contained but a sliver of truth.
In addition to being truth-seekers, the magi were foreigners and thus represent the greater world that Jesus Christ came to save. Yes, Jesus was the fulfillment of generations of Jewish prophesies. It was known the messiah would come from Jewish ancestry and from the lineage of King David. What was perhaps less understood at the time, was that He was not only coming to save the Jewish people, but all people. The magi are important because they were not Jewish and they came from the East, from other lands. In essence, the magi were the very first “Gentiles to recognize and give reference to the Kingship of Christ,” (Catholic Bible Dictionary). Jesus came to save all humanity from the horror of sin and its effects, so that every single soul could obtain salvation in heaven. The magi show us right from the beginning that this is true. This is how Benedict ends his reflection on the magi: “The key point is this: the wise men from the East are a new beginning. They represent the journeying of humanity toward Christ. They initiate a procession that continues throughout history. Not only do they represent the people who have found the way to Christ: they represent the inner aspiration of the human spirit, the dynamism of religions and human reason toward Him.” So, in imitation of the magi, even today, all of humanity continues to seek truth, move toward Him, and adore Him who is the fullness of truth.
Now, even though those of us who are Catholic have found the fullness of truth in the Church, it does not mean that we are not like the magi and still on a journey. As humans, we all have error in our thinking because we have not yet received the beatific vision, which can only be obtained in heaven. As long as we are still here, we will all have error. If we recognize that wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit, do we seek to use that gift to continually seek out truth and seek to clarify our wrong thinking? We need to be open to the truth as truth and not perception. This means that, sometimes, we will have to be humble in acknowledging our ignorance. The magi were clearly humble, since they did not hesitate to reject their previous practices and bow down and adore an infant king. We ought to imitate that humility in our pursuit of truth. We also ought to recognize where we will and will not find truth. Today’s society will not tell us truth, rather it will tell us its perception of the truth, and that perception is ever-changing according to the whims and desires of a fickle culture. The media or politicians will also not be a sound source of truth, as they are humans too. If you are seeking truth as truth, you can only find it in Him who is truth incarnate, Jesus.
In order to find the truth you seek, you must tune out the world and tune into the divine. Read Sacred Scripture. Read sound theology. Read your catechism. As important as reading and studying are, there is something even more important, and that is listening. Go to God in prayer often and let Him tell you what the truth is. Go to Him in the silence of Eucharistic Adoration and listen to Him speak directly to your heart.
Are you ready to let go of error and ignorance and everything incorrect to truly adore Him who is absolute truth, all packaged up into a tiny, helpless baby?