I offer for your consideration this Reflection by Michael Kwatera, O.S.B. —Msgr. Richard
Although the Magi are among the most famous travelers in the Bible, we know almost nothing about them. We don’t even know for certain there were three of them; we assume so because St. Matthew tells us they offered three gifts to the Infant Jesus. Later Christian tradition, drawing upon Old Testament texts, made them into kings and gave them names of Casper, Melchior, and Balthazar.
But have you wondered about their ages? Were they young or were they elderly? We don’t know for sure. But maybe such speculations were in the mind of the artist Gentile da Fabriano (1370-1427) as he painted his masterpiece, Adoration of the Magi. We see the Magi in this painting depicted of different ages.
The oldest wise man reverently kneels before the infant on Mary’s lap and kisses the baby’s foot. Maybe this old man has realized that the best hope of humankind is found in the birth of this child, the King of the Jews and King of Kings. The middle-aged wise man is taking off his crown as he begins to kneel. He seems to be somewhat puzzled and hesitant, as if he were trying to make sense of the lowly mother and child who don’t look like royalty at all. Lastly, the third wise man is very young, who stands a bit removed from Mary and her baby. He proudly holds his gift in his hand but makes no gesture of offering it to the Christ Child.
Perhaps this portrayal illustrates different human responses to the mystery of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. In a sense, we follow in the footsteps of the Magi in our spiritual journey. We are always being led by God to meet Jesus Christ in our prayer and worship, in our families and friends, in the needy, in our daily lives.
Like the oldest wise man, we may humbly kneel before Christ the Lord. But we must also honor Him by our loving service to our sisters and brothers. We must share the oldest wise man’s spirit of complete self-giving to Jesus Christ.
Sometimes we may be like the middle-aged wise man, somewhat blind and deaf to how God is acting in our lives and in our world. Maybe we assume that God is not acting how we think God should act, or where, or when. God’s plans for us in Christ are greater than we can ever imagine, but they are always for our good.
Sometimes we may be a bit stingy with sharing our gifts of time, talent, and treasure, like the youngest wise man in the painting. Sometimes we wait to see what God will do for us before deciding what we will do for God and God’s people.
If we share God’s many gifts to us in Christ, we become epiphanies—manifestations—of God’s beloved Son to others. And then the solemnity of the Epiphany will not be just another date on the calendar, but it will be a way of living every day of the new year.