The Magi, the mysterious gift bringers of the Gospel according to Matthew, have long captivated the public imagination. Who were they? Were they kings? Where did they come from? Even their very existence is called into question although modern science, and archaeological findings, continue to reinforce biblical accounts.
Tradition holds that the remains of the Magi are interred in a golden reliquary behind the high altar in the cathedral in Cologne Germany.
One of the first questions concerning the Magi is why they came in the first place. Why would foreigners, non-Jewish easterners, travel so far to see the new-born King of the Jews? How would they even know about the Jewish prophecies of a Messiah in the first place?
Professor Frederick Larson has studied this question along with questions about the star of Bethlehem and gives an intriguing suggestion.
The Magi were wise men. They were the scientists and scholars of their day. They looked for “scientific” explanations of the world around them and studied the movement of the stars. They were the advisors and counselors of kings. One of the most celebrated schools of the Magi was in Babylon, and was well established 600 years before the birth of Christ. This was about the time the prophet Daniel was exiled to Babylon. The king of Babylon forced Daniel into this school so that Daniel could then serve as an advisor to the king. Professor Larson suggests it is Daniel who would have taught the Magi about the prophecies of a Messiah who would come to save man from the slavery of sin and death. It is reasonable to assume these prophesies would have been studied and handed down as part of the body of knowledge of the Magi.
Six hundred years later the Magi saw astronomical signs pointing to the birth of the Messiah. To those who study the stars, the signs were obvious, but most people would not have noticed. The signs were something extra-ordinary hidden inside the ordinary.
So too was the birth of Christ; God taking on flesh and born to humble parents, in a humble town, the extra-ordinary, hiding within the ordinary.
In ancient Jerusalem, the people had become complacent and no longer recognized the signs that would herald the birth of the Savior. It took outsiders to reveal the Messiah to the world.
Are we complacent in our faith? Do we take our beliefs for granted and don’t give them much thought? If that is the case, then we are missing out on a rich tradition that provides us with deep spiritual insight.
Within parish churches all across the world there are people who have seen a great light and come to the church to know more. Even now they are studying to be received fully into the Church on the Easter vigil. They approach the faith with a decisiveness and purpose that many of us lack.
Let us remember that often it is the outsiders, the converts, the travelers from afar, who shake us from our complacency and reveal to us new and fruitful paths.
Learn more about Professor Larson and his search at http://www.bethlehemstar.com/