Magi were representatives of the old order
On the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) we celebrate the coming of the Magi or ‘Wise Men’ to worship the infant Jesus at Bethlehem.
The story of the Wise Men who came from the east to honour a newborn king is strange and mysterious. Magi is what they really were – soothsayers, magicians, astrologers and fortune tellers. There is no hint in the Gospels that they were kings.
They represented the enormous power of superstition in the ancient world. No emperor would go to war, no rich man would marry and no one would buy a piece of land without consulting the soothsayer.
In Matthew’s story even Herod treated these unexpected visitors with respect. They embodied the power of the unseen world of fate and fortune. Yet, these representatives of the old order of fear and superstition laid their treasures at the feet of the infant Jesus.
More than that, they paid him homage and stretched themselves on the floor before him. Not just the Gentile world, but the whole world of pagan religion and superstition made an amazing act of surrender to the infant Messiah.
The early Church saw the Magi as representatives of the old order, which was now abolished with the coming of Christ. From now on, the world would not be ruled by fear, but by faith, not by signs and portents, but by hope and promise.
Ignatius of Antioch, writing at the end of the apostolic era, put it in these terms, ‘With that star a new age dawned, for the old powers of magic and sorcery were broken and superstition received its death-blow. The age-old empire of evil superstition crumbled, because God was appearing in human form to bring in his new age.’
The Magi were not Jewish. They were Gentiles. Add the Epiphany story to the Christmas story and the conclusion is unavoidable: Jesus is not just for his own people, the Jews, but also for everybody: Jews and Gentiles and peoples of every race, nation and culture.
The coming of the Christ was a light that drove away the dark powers of magic, sorcery and superstition. The coming of the Christ was a light shining in the darkness who reigns over all the earth.
Thanks be to God. Amen