By VERY REV. ALEXIS M. LEPICIER, O.S.M. Consultor of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation, etc.
CHAPTER V. JESUS CHRIST ADORED BY THE MAGI AS KING OF THE JEWS
WHILE the angels of Paradise were singing hymns of praise over the stable of Bethlehem where lay the newly-born Babe, Saviour of Israel, behold there appeared suddenly in the eastern heavens a new and brilliant star before the gaze of some wise men of upright intention. This they knew by divine revelation to be that mysterious star announced by Balaam as the sign of the birth of the coming Messias: "A star shall rise out of Jacob" (Num. XXIV, 17.) And so, following the impulse of the Holy Spirit and paying no heed to weariness or peril, these holy men took to the road under the guidance of the star, in search of the new-born Saviour. In the event which follows, we have the first external and solemn manifestation of the royal dignity of the promised Messias.
In fact, no sooner had the pious pilgrims arrived at Jerusalem than they sought an audience with Herod, and asked him the astounding question: "Where is he that is born King of the Jews' (Matth. II, 2.) Astounding in deed, under the circumstances was the pro posed question. Who had taught the Magi to call the Messias: "King of the Jews?" Who had revealed to them that the Infant which they sought would be invested with the dignity of king and would moreover really exercise this power? There is no doubt that they were taught by none save the Holy Spirit, who had willed that in Him who lay in the crib at Bethlehem, the nations should recognize their King, Jesus Christ, the loving King of our hearts.
At the voice of the Magi, Jerusalem arose from her lethargy, and Herod, answering their questions, pointed out to them the place where, according to the prophets, the Messias was to be born; asking them moreover, when they had found the new-born King, to bring him back word that he, too, might come and adore Him.
Thereupon the pilgrims wend their way toward Bethlehem: and behold, the star which had vanished on their entry into Jerusalem reappears as brilliant as before. With hearts full of holy joy at the sight, they follow their heavenly guide until at last they see it stop ping over a poor cavern.
But can it be that this is a king's dwelling? And where is the palace, where the marble columns, where the regal staircases, where the ranks of servants and pages, where the sumptuous bedizenments of the new-born child, where the golden cradle in which He should slumber?
Not a trace of these is to be seen. On the contrary, as the Magi enter the cave, they be hold two poor persons, Mary and Joseph, and in the arms of Mary a wailing infant. At this sight, however, the Wise Men of the East are not shaken in their faith. They do not turn and depart. Far from it. Enlightened by grace, behold them prostrate at the feet of the divine Infant: and with all the enthusiasm of their believing souls they adore Him as King of the earth and proclaim Him Sovereign of their hearts.
Not content with this, they add outward homage to their inward affection, they open up their rich treasures and offer to the divine Babe gold, incense and myrrh.—Gold for their perfect love; incense for their devotion; myrrh to prefigure their compassion for the future sufferings of this beloved King.
These Wise Men quite understood that Jesus was no earthly king, but a heavenly one, the King of all hearts. Having opened and entirely submitted their hearts to Him, they grasped the meaning of the naked poverty that surrounded Jesus, of the manger in which He was laid, of the swaddling-bands in which He was wrapped, of all that seemed derogatory to an earthly king but which well befitted the coming of the sweet and tender King of our hearts.
But Herod was not able to understand this, for he had no ideal beyond domination and tyranny, and so he was unworthy to be allowed in the presence of the divine Child or to taste the sweetness of His countenance in which the angels rejoice.
"If the Magi had sought an earthly king," says St. John Chrysostom, (Homil. II in op. imperf.) "and had found him in such a lowly condition, they would have been confused to have undergone in vain the fatigues of so perilous a journey. But since they were in search of a heavenly King, even though they perceived in Him no sign of regal excellence, still convinced as they were by the testimony of the star, they adored Him. In fact, they saw only a man, but acknowledged God and offered Him gifts becoming His exalted dignity as the true Christ: gold, indeed they offered as to a mighty King; frankincense, which is used in divine sacrifices, they burned before Him as before God; myrrh, which is used to embalm the bodies of the dead, they offered to Him who was to die for the salvation of all."
On the other hand, Herod and the carnal Jews, who dreamt of nothing but terrestrial greatness and worldly honors, were unable to comprehend these sublime mysteries. Consequently, they were not worthy to be admitted into the presence of the meek King of our hearts, nor could they enjoy the sweetness of that countenance on which the angels delight to gaze. As St. Augustine says, "they were like those who built Noah's ark, who furnished others a means of escape, but they themselves perished in the deluge; or again, they were like milestones which point out the road, but they themselves do not move." (Serm. LXVI de Diversis, c. 4.)
The Magi, on the other hand, were made blessed by the presence of this humble King, and when they had returned to their own country, they warmly and convincingly preached the reign of this lovable Sovereign of all hearts.
Whether the Magi were absolute monarchs or only powerful lords, such as are called kings by orientals, cannot be ascertained and is not of any great moment to us. But this we know, that they were astronomers and were considered as learned men in their own country; that they were both great and wise, and, moreover, that they were rich and powerful, as is shown by their gifts. Now what is meant by all this display of greatness, wisdom and riches in the midst of the humility, poverty and discomfort of the cave of Bethlehem? What, if not the fulfillment of the will of the eternal Father, that "All kings of the earth shall adore him: all nations shall serve him" (Ps . LXXI, 11.) that "all the nations thou has made shall come and adore before thee, O Lord: and they shall glorify thy name." (Ps. LXXXV, 9.)
So the holy Magi went back to their coun try, the country whence the sun rises, and announced to the people sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, that in the humble cave of Bethlehem they had found the most lovable king that the world has ever known—most rich, because His poverty is for us an endless source of unspeakable riches; most powerful, because one look of His is enough to bend beneath His scepter every heart, however rebellious ; most lovable, because submission to His empire and service is the fount of great sweetness which no human consolation can ever equal.