Guiding Stars
Guiding Stars

Guiding Stars

The Epiphany of the Lord. Fr Thomas Mannion suggests how we can imitate the Magi, and also the star of Bethlehem.

The magi appear on the scene in rather a sudden way. Imagine being at dinner and you’re told there are some people from the east looking for an infant king. The child already having been born, wise men from the east arrive in Jerusalem asking where the infant king is. There was something in the night sky which had caught their attention. Worry ensues on the part of Herod and so he calls for the magi to be brought to him. Could this be the return of the Davidic line? Is there to be an insurrection against his house, installed by the Roman senate? This child is ‘destined for the rise and fall of many’. He ‘casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly’. Herod of course had not heard the magnificat or the prophecy of Simeon and yet there is fear.

This fear of the newborn king, which will lead to murder, is juxtaposed with the joy of the magi upon finding the child when the star rests over where the child lives.

There are many candidates for what the magi follow but what is more important is that they meet Jesus Christ, the true light who enlightens all peoples. The gentiles come to worship and worship is what they do. They present gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, giving us a foretaste of what is to come for this little one. Gold for kingship, frankincense for worship, and myrrh for death. Jesus the great high priest and king of Israel will die so that our joy, the joy of the magi, may be complete.

We too can give Jesus in our own lives gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We can use our goods, our time, and wealth to help those most in need, remembering Our Lord’s words: ‘whatsoever you do to one of the least of these my brothers, that you do to me’. We can perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and we can take up our cross, dying to selfishness, making an offering not only of those good things we possess but an offering of ourselves. In so doing we become a light to others pointing the way to Christ.

Other than worship and the giving of gifts, it is not recorded what conversation the magi had when they arrived at the house or how long they stayed. What must they have thought, moving from Herod’s palace in Jerusalem to such a humble dwelling?

Having met the Christ they return by a different route because they are warned in a dream. God communicates to the magi in a way they will understand but it is still for the magi to set out on the journey. They have something to do. We should remember this: God asks us, and expects us, not to be simply passive but, like the magi, to be active. The magi were expected to use their reason and their initiative; they had to ask for help from others, and in the spiritual life we will have to do the same.

There are those lights God has placed in our own lives that lead us to worship the infant king. Parents, grandparents, friends, priests and religious; we are all called by God to shine that gentle light which God has given us to draw people to worship the Lord. You and I may be the only explicit witness to Jesus Christ in the lives of those God has placed in our life to love. Though even those who do not share our love for Jesus can lead us to him just as Herod and his court helps the magi to hurry onward to Bethlehem. Paradoxically, King Herod enables the magi to give right praise and worship. Those with false understandings of God can help to purify us from false idols and spur us on to worship the God who is living and true.

Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6 | Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6 | Matthew 2:1-12

Image: detail of the central panel of a triptych of the Adoration of the Magi (ca 1510) by Hieronymus Bosch (Jeroen van Aken, ca 1450-1516), Prado Museum, Madrid, photographed by Frans Vandewalle (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Fr Thomas Thérèse Mannion is Assistant Chaplain to the University of Edinburgh.

Comments (6)

  • Margaret Grant

    Having followed you through your time in Oxford, on line, it is a pleasure to see you and hear your homily again from Scotland. I hope you are happy there and settling in your new surroundings. Thank you for your wise words and may God bless you in your life and work during 2024.
    With fraternal love and prayers,

  • Tricia Murphy-Black

    Very useful and pertinent for me as I ponder what 2024 will bring. My movements have to be limited but there are those who would benefit from my time, attention my interest in their situations. Thank you

  • Fernanda (Nanda) Mee

    ‘Having met the Christ they return by a different route because they are warned in a dream. God communicates to the magi in a way they will understand but it is still for the magi to set out on the journey.’. I once heard a wise Dominican say (not the one writing this homily, albeit he is very wise too), that once one encounters Christ, one cannot help but change direction of traveling, as lives are transformed in Christ.
    Thank you Fr Thomas, may Wisdom continue to guide you towards Him who is source and summit of all worship. Happy Solemnity of the Epiphany.

  • Michael Scott

    Thank you for posting this to me.

  • Veronica Adsetts

    ‘Those with false understandings of God …’ how true. I have also found that those who profess no knowledge of God can ‘shine a light’ on my failings and inadequacy. Thank you

  • Catherine

    Thank you for this. It makes me wonder just how this encounter affected these magi. God has a plan and cares for all of use regardless of who or what we are and with surprising results sometimes and that, I imagine may take a long time for some of us. As I look back I see how God has kindly corrected and helped me. Thank you for this intriguing article.


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