“You alone are the Lord. To be ruled by you is for us salvation. For us to serve you is nothing else but to be saved by you!” – William of St. Thierry
Matthew 2:7-12: Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward, and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.
Christ the Lord Christ deserved the gift of gold. Gold has always indicated royalty, and the visiting Magi knew that this child was the newborn King of the Jews. That the Magi themselves were not Jews and still did him homage shows that in Christ all the Old Testament prophecies have reached their fulfillment: the time has come for Israel (through Jesus) to become a blessing to all peoples.
Gold is a precious metal not only because it is beautiful, but also because it is rare. To make an offering of gold is to make an offering of what we count most valuable; even to this day gold is the preferred metal for the sacred vessels used in the Mass, to symbolize that Christ’s Body and Blood are the most precious gifts we have to offer. Because he is our King, Christ deserves our very best. We should follow the Magi’s lead and do him homage by putting all of our talents and gifts at his service, resolving never to use them except in ways that will please him the most.
This offering, however, takes faith. God only explained part of the story to the three wise men. They had to follow a mysterious star in order to make their way to Jesus. The star drifted in and out of sight: when they saw it, they were filled with delight, when clouds obscured it, they had to journey by faith. To follow the Lord and give him our all means learning to trust him, to keep his star shining in our hearts, no matter the weather.
Christ the Teacher Even before Jesus can talk, he teaches us a precious truth about ourselves. In our hearts there dwell two potential responses to the coming of such a King: Herod’s or the Magi’s. Herod had spent his life murdering and extorting and building a personal kingdom ruled by his whim and for his personal glory. Christ enters the scene, a King with authority from on high. Herod immediately feels the threat: if Christ is not destroyed or discredited, it could spell the end of all his labors.
The Magi detect the arrival of the long-awaited King of the Jews in natural signs, which God surely used as a way to communicate with them in a language they would understand. Far from fearing the demands that this new King might make on their personal lives, they rejoice to know that God’s Savior is finally coming. Instead of hoarding their treasures, the fruits of their life’s labors, they generously offer them to Christ as gestures of honor and respect, of homage due to the one come to rule over an everlasting Kingdom.
When Christ enters our lives, which he does every day through the voice of conscience, the teachings of his Church, and the designs of Providence, we must choose in whose steps we will follow, Herod’s or the Magi’s.
Christ the Friend The Magi’s journey had not been an easy one. Traveling in ancient times involved risks and hardships almost unknown to us; the Magi had to traverse deserts and mountains on foot, braving harsh weather, outlaws, and wild animals at every turn. They undertook the journey because they believed in Jesus Christ, even though they had seen none of his miracles, knew not the full meaning of Israel’s prophecies, and lacked the ultimate testimony of his love on the cross. Christ rewarded their determined faith with profound joy: “The sight of the star filled them with delight.” When we, who have many more reasons to believe, sincerely pursue friendship with Christ the King, he is glad to give it, along with all the joy it affords.
But our friendship also gives him joy. Frankincense (incense) was burned in houses of worship for the pleasure of God. The Old Testament speaks of sweet smelling burnt offerings that pleased the Lord, and the Book of Revelation mentions incense (which stands for the prayers of God’s people) being offered ceaselessly to the Lamb (Christ). The incense itself is powerless to warm the heart of God; only the attitude that moves us to offer it can do that. God longs for us to come to him, to trust him, to seek answers and help from him – just as a father rejoices when his children bring him all their troubles and triumphs. Our humble, confident, and sincere prayers fill the heavenly courts with the pleasing aroma of spiritual frankincense; let us not deprive our Lord of such delights, which he relishes so much.
Christ in My Life You deserve my worship, my allegiance, my adoration – you deserve the very best I can give you in all things. How negligent I am in giving it! I don’t know how you put up with my pettiness and self-absorption. Thank you for giving me the gift of faith; teach me to live that faith to the hilt. With the love of your heart, inflame my heart…
Part of me is just like Herod: when my will or wishes are contradicted, I go ballistic. You know that. It doesn’t surprise you. I want to take advantage of those moments, Lord. In them I can glorify you, offer you the precious incense of self-mastery out of love for you. Teach me to kneel before you and offer you my most prized possession: my own will…
So many times you have let me see the star! You have given me so many blessings, so many experiences of your love. Thank you, Lord. Keep filling me heart with your joy, so that I can overflow with it to everyone around me, and they too can lift their gaze to the heavens and see the light of your love, even if that star disappears behind a cloud…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.
Editor’s Note: For the reflection on the first part of this Sunday’s gospel reading, click here to see today’s previous post: “The King is Coming (Matthew 2:1-6)”.
Art for this post on Matthew 2:7-12: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy: The Three Wise Men (named Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar). Detail from: “Mary and Child, surrounded by angels”, mosaic of a Ravennate italian-byzantine workshop, completed within 526 AD by the so-called “Master of Sant’Apollinare”; Nina-no (Nina Aldin Thune), 2006, own work, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons.