Last century (literally) I was researching for my master’s thesis on early Franciscan Missions. One of the really interesting aspects of the early Franciscan missions was the one to China. The friars arrived in China in 1292 and John of Montecorvino was the first bishop of Beijing. But all that is beside the point. In the course of my research, I ran across The Travels of Marco Polo in which he describes his travels in the far east. I was scanning the text to see if he had any mention of contact with the friars or the Christian monasteries that dotted the silk road in those days. While he had no mention of either – he did recount a most interesting rendition of the account of the Three Magi. Marco Polo wrote that he encountered this version in Persia (modern-day Iran). In that account there are three magi – but they are not traveling together. Each is on his own journey following the star to Bethlehem. Melchior is an older man, Balthazar is an adult in his middle years, and Gaspar is a young man just reaching adulthood.
When Melchior reaches Bethlehem, he goes in search of the newborn king and upon arriving at the cave where the Holy Family is staying, Melchior enters and encounters an older man like himself. They speak together, sharing memories, experience and the accumulated wisdom of their lives. The older man tells him to return later and then he will meet the newborn king.
Similarly, Balthazar arrives at the cave and encounters an adult in the same middle years – like himself. They speak together about the importance of leadership, teaching the young, passing on the traditions and customs, and the key obligations and responsibilities of this life. The man tells him to return later and then he will meet the newborn king.
When Gaspar arrives, he encounters a young man like himself. They are both filled with passion about how they can make a difference, change the world and make justice reign in the lives of everyday people – if only those in current positions of authority would listen. His counterpart tells him to return later and then he will meet the newborn king.
As it happens, all three magi return bearing gifts and reach the cave at the same time. When they enter they find the Holy Family and the child, all of 12 days old.
There is a universality in the promise of Jesus’ coming – not just across the time as seen in the promised to Israel, fulfilled in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – not just to all people of every race and nation – but in this place, in this time – to all people of every age and persuasion: to the old, the middle-aged and the young.
Jesus comes to us in our life’s experience, in our hopes and dreams, and in our everyday work and play. He comes as the wisdom of the ages, in the challenge of leadership, in the promise of a world becoming the Kingdom of God. What I cherish about the Persian account of the Three Magi is that in its telling it is mindful that yes, the Magi represent the Gentile world coming to pay homage to the Lord or Lord and King of Kings, but that even as we come to Jesus – Jesus is coming to us. When and where we are. Jesus comes to us in
- memories, experience and the accumulated wisdom of their lives – as he did with Melchior
- times of leadership, teaching our children, passing on the traditions and customs, and in all the key obligations and responsibilities of this life – just as he did with Balthazar
- passion and promise of our youth when we can change the world and make justice reign in the lives of everyday people – just as he did with Gaspar
We celebrate The Epiphany of the Lord – from the Greek word which means “to reveal” or “to make manifest.” Jesus comes to us each day in the Word proclaimed and especially in the Eucharist. What will be revealed? What will be made manifest? What will be your Epiphany? That depends.
Will you bring the gift of your life – as it now is to encounter Jesus in the Eucharist? Will you bring your wisdom, your talents, and your passion to the encounter? Will you, like the Magi, commit to continue the journey that lies ahead in this new year always searching for the manifestations of God and God’s grace active in the world?