The journey of the magi is long and risky, but it ends with joy
The feast of the Epiphany commemorates the arrival of the magi, perhaps astrologers, magicians, kings or priests from the East. They journey to find Christ, worship and offer gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The event is a unique tradition from the Gospel of Matthew that has influenced religious customs, art and music. The narrative can inspire us to reflect on our individual and collective journey to encounter Christ in our lives.
“We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” (Mt 2:2)
Where do you encounter Christ in your life?
How can you support others in their spiritual journeys?
How do you worship and show homage to Christ?
The Christmas season is filled with traditions associated with the birth of Christ. The Epiphany has been particularly influential with some Christians singing carols, opening gifts and eating sweet cakes on this feast. The names and numbers of magi are unspecified in Matthew although traditionally they are thought of as a group of three, corresponding to the three gifts. Later Christian tradition names these figures Balthasar, Melchior and Caspar, names sometimes included in religious art and music.
Music associated with the Epiphany highlights the journey of the magi and their gifts along with the star which is especially important for leading the way. The popular hymn “We Three Kings,” also called “Three Kings of Orient,” composed by John Henry Hopkins, Jr., recounts the journey of the magi and the significance of the star:
“O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy perfect light”
“Behold That Star,” also called “Behold The Star,” is another song associated with the Epiphany. A spiritual composed by Thomas W. Talley and originally performed with the Fisk Jubilee Singers, this song also highlights the star leading the magi to Christ:
“Behold that star!
Behold that star up yonder,
Behold that star!
It is the star of Bethlehem”
In addition to using Matthew, “Behold That Star,” also incorporates traditions from the Gospel of Luke, noting that there was no room in the inn and an angel was present with the travelers.
The journey of the magi is long and risky but ends with joy. The magi are called upon by King Herod to find out details about Christ, and their avoidance of the king on their return journey helps to protect the Holy Family, even at the cost of potentially putting themselves in danger. After completing their journey led by the star, the magi are filled with overwhelming joy when it stops over Christ. Their gifts and kneeling posture show a recognition of Christ’s importance. Their willingness to follow the star, not knowing precisely where it would lead them, reminds us to be open and attentive to aspects in life that can lead us to a divine encounter.
What is your star today? What holds your gaze and leads you closer to Christ? The traditions of the Epiphany invite us to think about how we can find our way to Christ throughout the year. We should look for events, people and actions that can help us to encounter Christ. The magi were a group on a journey together, and we should remember that we are not on a solo trip. In addition to relying on our community, we should also seek ways to help others to draw nearer to Christ.