The Feast of the Epiphany, or Three Kings’ Day, is a celebration of the visit of the Magi, wise men from the East, to the baby Jesus the second Sunday after Easter. In our current age of skepticism and science, the Magi demonstrate how faith and reason can work together.
I love the Magi. Hardy, adventurous, and full of curiosity, they are certain of the significance of the unusual phenomenon they observe in the skies, reading the movements of the heavenly bodies. They are smart and intellectually and personally bold, travelling 700 miles through the dangerous desert to complete their inquiry. They believe there is a priceless treasure to be found, the Messiah, the ultimate King of the Jews, whose birth is proclaimed in the heavens, and is worth risking everything to discover.
But they are also humble enough to ask for help when they get to Jerusalem. Once they get redirected to Bethlehem by the Jewish scholars who tell them that prophets predicted the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, they are overjoyed to pick up the star they were following again like any eager truth-seeker on the scent of a great discovery.
But once they find out that the star rests over a poor family in a very humble situation, are the Magi disappointed? Not at all. They don’t let prejudice or presuppositions blindside them. Instead they fall down and worship the babe, and offer him the wonderful gifts that probably providentially provide for the escape of the Holy Family from Herod’s later murderous rampage upon all babies born under two. They leave “another way,” forever changed by what they have beheld and learned about the ways of God.
The Magi teach us to be intellectually bold and to be open to science. Science does not conflict with faith, but rather it is their study of the stars that lead the Magi to discover God. They are also collaborators with scholars from other fields. When they have come as far as their science could lead them, they inquire of men of history and religion, Herod’s scribes and scholars, to determine their next direction.
Finally, unlike evil Herod who respond to the same discovery with murder to prevent any challenge to his power, or the apathetic religious leaders in Herod’s court who should have been the most eager to discover the Messiah but don’t bother to travel the five miles south to Bethlehem to investigate for themselves, the Magi respond with love, joy, generosity, and humility.
The Magi are “men for all seasons,” the prototype of the thoughtful mind, still humble enough to be open to faith and respond to the wonder of mystery.