Sometimes I wonder how Mary and Joseph reacted when the Magi showed up.
I can imagine them, finally settled, still processing all that's happened with angels and shepherds and this baby in their arms, when there is a knock at the door. Joseph signals to Mary that he will get it, quiet so as not to wake the baby she finally got to sleep, assuming it to be a relative or neighbor. But opening the door, he is met with the startling sight of a dusty, strangely dressed group of foreign, rich, Gentile men.
I can imagine him blinking, dumbfounded, turning to Mary and mouthing “Do you know these guys?”
On Epiphany, we remember the day the Magi met the Christ child. Yet in some ways, they seem the most out-of-place members of the Nativity story. Angels are an awe-inspiring and humbling presence, but it makes sense that they would come to share the message of the Messiah long foretold, as they shared so many messages with Israel before, and to guard him as they guarded Israel’s future so many times before. Shepherds are a surprising and humbling presence, but they show God’s love for all of Israel, as well as foretelling Christ’s shepherd heart, recalling an important prophecy from Ezekiel (Ezekiel 34). But the Magi? They weren’t from the land of Israel, they were not in a covenant with God, they were not considered clean by Jewish law, and they belonged to another religion entirely. Why show up for a king of a nation not your own, who is fulfilling a covenant you don’t belong to, and is part of a religion different than yours?
The key lies in how we describe Epiphany. I always grew up hearing it was the day the Magi met the Christ child. But that is not how the Church describes it. The Church says that Epiphany celebrates Christ’s manifestation to the Gentiles. What does that mean? It means it that here, Jesus revealed himself to those who were not already a part of the Chosen People.
This was the day the Messiah revealed to the world that he had come to save not only the Jewish people, but also the Gentiles. This was the day that God revealed his heart for the whole world.
All throughout the Old Testament, God shows his heart for the Gentiles. We see him directly intervene to save a banished Hagar and her son, Ishmael, from dying in the desert, and making Ishmael the father of a great Gentile nation. We see him bringing Gentile men and women into the Covenant made with Abraham, including two women who would become ancestors of the Messiah himself (Rahab and Ruth). We see him extending chance after chance to entire nations to repent, as with the warning plagues in Egypt, and sending messengers to Gentile cities to turn them back to ways of love and truth, as with Jonah. We hear repeatedly in the Old Testament that Israel is meant to be a sign to the Gentiles, a blessing to them, in sharing their God. And we hear too, that one day all the nations will come together and worship God (Psalm 86, Isaiah 2). God made an everlasting covenant with Abraham. But he never, never abandoned the rest of his children!
Somehow, somehow, the Magi recognized this. We don’t know what brought them to the point that they knew they would be welcome to worship the Messiah of this God of the Hebrews… yet, somehow, they did know. They knew they could worship this One (even though no one in their land did), they knew they were welcome to adore this One (even if few in Israel would be particularly comfortable with their presence there), and they felt so called to do so that they risked a very dangerous journey. The Lord had whispered to their hearts, and in turn their act of faith astounded the world.
God had revealed his heart of love to these Gentile men. And in response, they revealed their own hearts—hearts of openness, trust, courage, generosity, wisdom, and love. Hearts touched by the Spirit of God.
We see at Epiphany Christ manifesting himself to the Gentiles for the first time, a revelation that he would welcome the Gentiles into the New Covenant he had come to establish with his people. But the fact that these men were even there at all reveals something else—that God was at work in their hearts long before that moment, in order to get them to the place they could personally encounter Christ.
This is a great hope for us!
We all know someone who has never really had an opportunity to get to know God. Maybe they were taught lies that turned them away from Christianity. Maybe they were scandalized by something they saw or experienced in the Church that made them think none of this could be true. Maybe they never heard anything of Jesus Christ beyond their grandfather using the name as a curse word at home. Maybe they belong to another faith. Maybe they live somewhere where speaking his name is forbidden, either socially or legally. Maybe they were never baptized, and don’t really see the point of such “old rituals.”
God has a heart for them.
His love is without bounds. It was not confined only to the descendants of Abraham before Jesus came on the scene. And it is not confined to those who currently have a relationship with Him now. Just as God used the people of Israel to reach out to the Gentiles in the Old Testament, so now he uses those who have a relationship with him to reach out to those who do not. Just as God worked on the hearts of the Magi to get them on the road that would lead them to an encounter with Christ, so now he works on the hearts of those far from him to get them on the road to an encounter with him. God’s heart has not changed. He is faithful.
Who is someone in your life who is away from a relationship with God? Who is someone in your life in whose heart you can see God beginning to stir? Who is a person or group of people you may not know personally, but who God has put on your heart as dear to him? On this special feast of Epiphany, take a few minutes of quiet to specifically intercede for those people in your life and on your heart. Pray for them with faith, trusting that the God who stirred the Magi into leaving it all behind to find and worship him can do the same for those in your life. As you pray, think of Mary holding out baby Jesus for the Gentile Magi to see and love, and trust that she is doing the same for those on your heart. And know that, as you intercede for them, you are participating in that action of Mary’s, of holding out Jesus for others to meet.
by Sr. Orianne Dyck, novice
photo: Imbal Malca for Unsplash