Over 2,000 years ago, three wise men set out from Persia and traveled thousands of miles on a camel-driven caravan, following a star that led to a small cave in the small town in Bethlehem.
They saw a child wrapped in swaddling clothes on a pile of straw, surrounded by donkeys and perhaps a cow, along with a simple carpenter and a young woman from the podunk town of Nazareth.
They presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh — and reverently adored Him.
What does all of this mean for us today?
1.) The star. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminds us: “On entering the Gentile world, the Christian faith had to grapple once again with the question of the astral divinities. Hence in the letters he wrote from prison to the Ephesians and the Colossians, [St.] Paul emphasizes that the risen Christ has conquered all the powers and forces in the heavens, and that He reigns over the entire universe.”
The story of the wise men’s star makes a similar point: “It is not the star that determines the child’s destiny, it is the child that directs the star,” as noted in “Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.”
We are not guided by fate but by a personal and loving force. Christ sends each one of us many stars and signs that will lead us to Him. But we need to look up; we need to be proactive to discover Him and His loving plan in our daily life.
We have His word in sacred Scripture. We experience His love and kindness each day though other people’s actions and His gentle inspiration in prayer, if we are open to it. We all want a quick fix — but dogged perseverance and deep trust are needed. How badly do we want to discover Christ in our lives?
2.) The cave. God could have been born anywhere. The Lord avoided glitz, glamour and glory and choose a humble cave. The Magi were not led to Herod’s palace or to the mansion of a Jewish nobleman — they were led to a simple cave. Today, God resides in the hidden and humble confines of a tabernacle, veiled even further by the appearance of bread. All we see is a circular piece of bread, but like the Magi, Catholics and Orthodox Christians all over the world bow down and adore Jesus, fully present in this hidden but real way.
Frankincense symbolizes His divinity (used in Jewish Liturgical rites), gold symbolizes His royalty (King of Heaven and earth), and myrrh symbolizes His future death and resurrection.
3.) The gifts. The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The presentation of the gifts bring this truth to light. Frankincense symbolizes His divinity (used in Jewish Liturgical rites), gold symbolizes His royalty (King of Heaven and earth), and myrrh symbolizes His future death and resurrection.
Each of us needs to find our star, our pathway to Jesus. Don’t be discouraged by what seems to be silence or a lack of response. Patient perseverance is needed and so worth the effort. If we persevere, like the three Magi, we, too, will see Jesus face to face, in all His glory, no longer hidden or disguised, for all eternity in heaven.
Fr. Michael Sliney, LLC, is a Catholic priest based in New York.