After the Resurrection the first person Jesus appeared to in the Gospel of Saint John was Mary Magdalene. She had gone to the tomb of Jesus, but she mistook the Risen Lord for the gardener. Magdalen tells him: “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid Him.” I thought immediately of those words on the 6th day of Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Family, when I went into our church and found someone had stolen the Baby Jesus from our church manger. I thought of Mary Magdalene: They have stolen the Lord’s body and I do not know where they have taken Him. It was not a nice feeling to know that someone had come into our church and stolen the Christ-Child.
This weekend is the feast of the Epiphany; the arrival of the kings from the East. The gospel does not tell us there were 3 kings, only 3 gifts and so we assume the tradition of the 3 kings, or astrologers, or magi as they are called. This feast has been celebrated since at least 380AD where we find the kings in the writings of Saint Gregory. They have come in search of the newborn king. They bear with them 3 symbols that prefigure who Jesus is: gold because He is king, frankincense because He is priest and myrrh because He is the Savior who is born to die to save us. Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI tells us that the kings’ arrival was “as though they had always been waiting for that star.” And when they saw that star, they left everything to find the King of kings. Saint John Vianney asks us “Oh when will that blessed day come on which we too shall do the same as the Wise Men did, and leave everything and give ourselves to God?”
I have stood before the very bones of these kings housed in a great golden reliquary in the center of Cologne Cathedral. Those kings had traveled a very long distance and a very long time to find Jesus. They are emblematic of your life’s journey to find Jesus. The gospel ends by making an often overlooked point. Once they found Jesus, they returned home, but “by another route.” Once you too have found Jesus you are never the same again, and you return back to your daily lives and to your homes, but “by another route.” Once the kings found Jesus, they stopped looking to the stars above. God had now directed them from inside. The star now shined within their hearts.
In the year 664 AD the Persians (Iran) from the East came to the Basilica Church of Saint Apollinare in Ravenna, Italy to steal the treasures and destroy the church. Entering the ancient church their attention was drawn to a mosaic dating to 565 AD. When they looked up they saw…themselves. The kings were dressed just as they were. They recognized that their ancestors had come not to steal and destroy, but in search of the Child Jesus. They spared the church and returned home by another route.
May all who search for Jesus one day find Him, be they king, astrologer, magi or even thief.
“The Three Magi” Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy
– Fr. Gerard Gordon