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Christmas may come but once a year, but thankfully the season doesn’t end in the church’s Liturgical Calendar on December 25th. After all the bustling activity leading up to Christmas Day, we get more time afterwards to reflect on the wonders of the Incarnation.
Think of it! God first assumed a human nature to save us from our sins, most vulnerably, as a little baby in a stable in a cave in Bethlehem! As mentioned here, in being born in such a seemingly lowly circumstance, Jesus wished to highlight for us how much he values true humility.
Yet He also shows us His place as the “King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords” (1 Tim 6:15; Rev 17:14) in that He as a newborn baby is worshiped by shepherds (Luke 2:15-20) and kings (Matt 2:1-12) alike!
I’d like to focus here on those kings (also known as the Three Wise Men or the Magi) who followed the Star of Bethlehem that they saw in the sky heralding our Lord’s birth. Matthew’s Gospel refers to them as Magi, a word for astrologers, although tradition associates these men with royalty. They followed that star to the cave outside Bethlehem to pay homage to the “newborn king of the Jews” as they referred to Jesus (Matt 2:2).
Their journey is remembered not only on Christmas Day, but more prominently, afterwards, in the United States and many other countries on the first Sunday after New Years’ Day on what we call Epiphany (although the official date of Epiphany is January 6th). This special holiday also commemorates Christ's manifestation to the gentiles (in this case the Magi).
Epiphany is also called Three Kings Day and children receive their gifts on this day in many Latin American countries (as well as in Puerto Rico and Spain) in commemoration of the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh that the Magi brought Jesus!
In honor of this blessed event, I’d like to offer this selection below. It's taken from a chapter entitled The Adoration of the Magi from the book the Life of Mary as Seen by The Mystics. Raphael Brown, its author, masterfully wove together various mystical accounts of events in the life of our Lord and Our Lady. Although these private revelations by no means constitute a Fifth Gospel, they are faithful to the Gospel accounts, and as such, have been deemed worthy of belief by clergy over the centuries.
We read in this account reprinted from the book below of the great joy the Magi experienced when they saw the Christ child, the great hospitality the Holy Family showed them, and the evil anguish of King Herod, who went on to order the massacre of all babies under the age of two in Bethlehem (Matt 2:16) in an effort to kill the little baby Jesus who he saw as a threat to his power.
One particularly intriguing point made here is that the Magi arrived in Jerusalem thinking that would be the most logical spot to find the long awaited Messiah but when they got there they found...nothing. Our God is truly a God of surprises! Born in Bethlehem? Not in the Temple or a palace surrounded by worshipers? Nope!
We are not required to take as fact any of the details enhancing Matthew’s Gospel account given below (such as the names and other descriptive information given about the Magi and their entourage) but I have found them most helpful for meditations and hope you might too. On behalf of Our Catholic Prayers I would like to wish you all a Blessed Christmas, Epiphany, and New Year!
THE ADORATION OF THE MAGI (EXCERPT)
The Mother of God knew by supernatural enlightenment that on the night of the Nativity an angel had been sent to announce the birth of the Savior of mankind to the three Magi Kings of the East, and she also knew that they would soon come to adore the Infant Jesus in the stable, for which she had a real affection. Yet when St. Joseph suggested that they move to a more comfortable dwelling in Bethlehem. Mary simply answered, without revealing the mystery:
“My husband and master, wherever you wish to go, I will follow with great pleasure.”
Just then the holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel appeared to them both and said:
“Divine Providence has ordained that three kings of this world shall come from the East in search of the King of Heaven, and shall adore the Word Incarnate in this very place. They are already ten days on the way and will shortly arrive.”
Joseph and Mary therefore set about preparing the grotto for the visit of the Kings and during the following days the Blessed Virgin saw in visions the Magi travelling together across the deserts east of the Holy Land.
The three Kings whose names (according to tradition) were Gaspar, Balthasar and Melchior, ruled over what is now Iraq and Iran. Gaspar of Mesopotamia, the youngest, was light brown in appearance, Balthasar of Parthia was dark brown, while Melchior of Media, the oldest, was rather stout and had an olive-colored complexion. Through their knowledge of the Old Testament prophecies and of certain traditions of their own peoples, they believed in the coming of the Savior of mankind.
And because they were kind and generous and good men, on the night of the Nativity they earned the privilege of being told by the angels in a dream that the long-awaited king of the Jews had just been born, that He was the Promised Redeemer, and that they were chosen by the Lord to seek Him and to honor Him.
Though each one received this revelation separately, each was made aware that it had also been given to the other two. The three Kings awoke at the same hour of the night, filled with extraordinary joy, and prostrating themselves on the ground they humbly thanked and worshiped Almighty God. Then they decided to leave immediately for the Land of Israel in order to adore the divine Child. Without delay they prepared gifts and procured the necessary camels, provisions and servants for their journey.
As each King set out that evening, he suddenly perceived a beautiful mystic star, which was formed by the angels, and in this star he saw a symbolic vision of a Virgin and Child with a cross, who was a King of a heavenly city and whom all the kings on earth worshiped.
The star then guided the three Magi in such a way that within a few days they came together, Melchior having traveled more rapidly than the others from his more distant kingdom. All three, who were already intimate friends, after conferring about their revelations became still more inflamed with devotion for the newborn King, and they now pursued their trip together, always under the guidance of the star, which they could see as clearly during the day as at night.
Each King was accompanied by four or five relatives and friends and a large number of servants, all riding on camels, dromedaries or horses, and consequently the caravan consisted of about two hundred persons.
The journey across the deserts, mountains, and rivers of Chaldea and Syria took nearly a month, despite the fact that the camels and horses were unusually fleet-footed. The whole caravan traveled in perfect order, and everyone seemed filled with simple joy and devotion.
At times, while contemplating the mystic star, the good Kings spontaneously composed and sang lovely canticles, with words such as "Beyond the mountains we yearn to kneel at the feet of the newborn King!"
At last, after crossing the river Jordan, they arrived before the walls of Jerusalem, which, because it was the capital of Israel, they thought was the logical birthplace of the new King of the Jews.
However, they were already disturbed by the fact that, contrary to their expectations, they had observed no signs of rejoicing among the people over the birth of the Messiah. Also, as they approached the great city, the star almost faded from their sight. At the city gate, they questioned some of the guards saying:
"Where is the newly born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship him."
But to their astonishment, the guards and the other Jews indicated they knew nothing about the birth of a new King of Israel. Then, at the request of the Magi, messengers were sent to arrange an interview with King Herod in his palace. And while they were waiting, the three Wise Men became very discouraged and only recovered some of their confidence after a period of silent prayer.
Herod having agreed to see the Kings the following morning, the caravan camped for the night in a large courtyard. But the Magi could not sleep. Instead they wandered through the city with guides, and studied the sky as though they were looking for the star. They thought that perhaps Herod wanted to hide the Child King from them.
Actually, Herod was so deeply troubled that he could not sleep, and during the night he summoned the high priests and doctors of the Law to meet with him. And he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. Unrolling their scriptures and pointing to a passage in the Book of Micheas [Micah 5:1-4a], they said to him:
"In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written of the prophet."
Becoming still more disturbed and fearful for his throne, Herod thereupon resolved to have the Infant King secretly put to death. Taking some of the priests with him, he went onto a porch and tried in vain to see the star of the Magi.
Meanwhile the scholars urged him to pay no attention to the fantastic stories of the Eastern rulers, for they insisted that, if the Messias had indeed been born, the fact would already be known both in the Temple and in the Palace. Realizing how unpopular he was among the people, Herod decided to keep the whole matter quiet.
He therefore received the Magi in secret, at dawn the following morning in a large hall in which refreshments and bouquets of flowers had been prepared for his guests. After having made them wait for a while, he entered, accompanied by several doctors of the Law, and proceeded to question the Wise Men closely concerning the time when the star had first appeared to them and concerning all that they knew about the Infant King.
Then Gaspar described the vision which they had had of a Virgin and a royal Child whom the kings of earth adored, because His kingdom was greater than all the kingdoms of the world. After telling them about the prophecy referring to Bethlehem, Herod hypocritically pretended that he too wished to adore the Infant King, and he said to the Magi:
"Go and make careful inquiry concerning the Child, and when you have found him, bring me word that I too may go and worship Him."
Leaving the King very ill at ease, and without taking any of his refreshments, the Magi set out with their caravan for Bethlehem.....When they arrived at the City of David toward evening, the star disappeared again, and they felt somewhat anxious.
They were directed to the Valley of the Shepherds as a suitable place for the caravan to camp overnight. After their servants had put up a large tent and had begun to unpack provisions, the three Kings suddenly perceived the star shining with extraordinary brightness over a nearby hill.
Then a beam of fiery light descended from the star onto the grotto, and in this ray the Magi saw a vision of the holy Child. Reverently taking off their headdress, they slowly walked over to the hill and found the entrance to the stable.
Gaspar pushed the door open and caught sight of the humble Mother of God sitting with the Infant Jesus at the far end of the cave, which was filled with a heavenly light. Both Mother and Child were just as the Kings had seen them in the vision a month before.
St. Joseph and an old shepherd now came out of the grotto, and the Magi told him very simply and modestly that they had come to worship the newborn King of the Jews and to offer Him gifts, whereupon Joseph welcomed them with touching friendliness and cordiality.
Then, accompanied by a shepherd, they returned to their tent in order to prepare for the solemn ceremony by which they planned to honor the Savior. And after having assembled their gifts and put on their great, white, silk cloaks, they set out for the grotto in an orderly procession with their relatives and servants.
When Mary knew that the Magi were approaching, she asked St. Joseph to stay at her side, and she calmly awaited them, standing with her Son in her arms, her head and shoulders covered with her veil, in perfect modesty and beauty, with a celestial light shining in her countenance and shedding over her a majesty that was more than human, even amid the extreme poverty of the stable.
After taking off their sandals and turbans, the three Kings entered the grotto. At their first sight of the Mother and Child, they were overwhelmed with reverence and admiration, and their pure hearts overflowed with joyful devotion. By a special permission of God they also perceived the multitude of resplendent angels who were attending the King of Kings.
Then the three Magi simultaneously prostrated themselves very humbly on the ground and fervently worshipped the divine Infant, acknowledging Him as their Lord and Master hey and as the Savior of all mankind.
When they arose, Mary sat down, holding Jesus on her lap. And the Kings approached her, for they wished to kiss her hand, as they customarily did to the queens in their countries. But the Queen of Heaven and earth modestly withdrew her hand and said:
"My spirit rejoices in the Lord, because among all the nations He has called you to behold the Eternal Word Incarnate. Let us therefore praise His Name!"
Then she uncovered the upper part of the Christ Child's body, which was wrapped in red and white swaddling clothes, and with one hand she supported His head, while she put the other arm around Him.
The Infant Jesus had His tiny hands across His chest, as if he were praying, and all His features seemed to radiate joy and love.
Seeing the divine Babe of Bethlehem thus, the three Kings fell on their knees before Him and again adored and worshiped Him. Their hearts became inflamed with a burning mystical devotion for Him. And in a fervent silent prayer they offered to the Christ Child their kingdoms, their peoples, their families, all their possessions, and their own selves.
They humbly begged Him to rule over their souls and thoughts and all their actions, to enlighten them and to give happiness, peace, and charity to the world. Tears of joy and devotion ran down their cheeks, while all they could say was:
"We saw His Star--we know that He is to reign over all kings--and we have come to worship Him and to offer Him our gifts."
Then Gaspar took from a purse hanging at his waist a number of small gold bars and laid them at Mary's feet. Next the copper-skinned Balthasar placed a golden censer with green incense on a table in front of Jesus. Finally Melchior came forward and left on the table a lovely little flowering shrub which gave forth myrrh.
As each gift was presented, the divine Infant smiled and waved His arms in a very lovable way, while Mary nodded with touching humility and spoke a few words of simple heartfelt gratitude to each of the three Kings.
Then they congratulated St. Joseph on his good fortune in being chosen as the husband of the Mother of the Messias, and expressed their profound sympathy over the dire poverty in which the Holy Family was living.
After the Magi had been in the stable for three hours, they withdrew, and their servants were allowed to enter in groups of five and to adore the Child Jesus. Meanwhile, outside the grotto, the Magi and their relatives stood around a great old tree and joyfully chanted their evening prayers.
Then they went to their tent, where St. Joseph and some of the shepherds had prepared a light supper for them consisting of bread, fruit, vegetables, and honey. As he sat there eating with the good Kimgs, Joseph was so happy that his eyes filled with tears.
And when he returned to the grotto he and Mary were overflowing with a joy that they had never known before, as at last they saw how Almighty God had brought to His Incarnate Son the honors and gifts that were due to Him.
The next day the Magi generously distributed food, clothing and money among the needy families of Bethlehem, and they sent their servants to the grotto with many choice presents, which Mary set aside for charity. The Kings planned to return to Jerusalem the following morning, and so they now went to say farewell to the Holy Family.
First they consulted the Blessed Virgin concerning many mysteries of faith and practice of religion in their daily lives and duties. Her words were so filled with divine truth that the Wise Men were deeply moved and wished that they did not have to depart from her.
When they presented some gems of great value to her, Mary respectfully refused them. They also offered to have a comfortable house built for her, but she humbly thanked them without accepting.
When at last the Kings had to leave, the Mother of God allowed each of them to hold the Christ Child in his arms, and as each did so, his face became transfigured with joy and he wept tenderly.
At the door they very fervently begged Mary and Joseph to pray for them. Then, in order to make them happy, Mary suddenly unwound her long yellow veil and handed it to Gaspar.
The three Magi bowed low before her and gratefully accepted this precious relic, and when they looked up, their hearts were filled with reverence and love as they contemplated the full heavenly beauty of both Mother and Child.
After chanting their evening prayers, the Kings and their attendants retired for the night--until, about midnight, an angel warned them in a dream to leave at once for the East without passing by Jerusalem.
Within less than an hour the caravan had quietly packed up all its equipment, and after a last, touching farewell to St. Joseph, the Magi silently vanished into the night, guided by an angel.
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