And then what? The magi “departed for their country by another way,” and then what? What did they do next? The magi were astrologers, trying to interpret the night sky for signs. For them, the appearance of a new star was a great sign. So they traveled hundreds of miles, and naturally, they went to Herod, assuming the ruling king will know the cause of this great sign. But Herod is unaware, and, instead, they find the new King in poverty, the child of a simple woman and a carpenter, though they hear stories that he is not the father, that the child has no earthly father. There are other stories of angels and shepherds and ancient prophecies coming to fulfillment. They themselves were part of fulfilling prophecy, as we hear in our first reading from the prophet Isaiah. The magi know that they have found the king they sought, and so they do him homage and present him with great gifts. Then, they themselves receive a sign, a dream that tells them not to return to Herod. And “they departed for their country by another way.” And then what?
Did the Magi tell people in the cities they visited on the way back of the great things that had happened in the land of Judah? When they passed a travelling caravan, did they report to them the birth of a great king? When they made it back to their own country, did they tell their people that, in Israel, ancient prophecies were being fulfilled? Did they listen through their lives for reports about this newborn king?
Or did they return to their ordinary lives, watching the stars, going and paying homage to this or that king and ruler, forgetting about the little child in Bethlehem among the various trips they have taken? Did being a part of the first Christmas make a difference in their lives, or did its impact fade by the time they made it back to the land they came from? Did Christmas change them, or was it simply a passing celebration that didn’t leave any lasting impact?
And what about us? We are still in the Christmas season. In the Church calendar, there is still another week of Christmas, but how many of us have gone on with our lives, no different from how we were before Christmas? Most of us are familiar with Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Towards the end, Ebenezer Scrooge proclaims that he would keep Christmas all year long. Most of us, on the other hand, probably find it challenging to keep Christmas for even the entire Christmas season. Like the magi, we have journeyed to Bethlehem. We have seen the Great King lying humbly in a manger. We have heard the ancient prophecies fulfilled. We have been warned of the threat that sin, the devil, and the world pose to this newborn King, just as the Magi were warned about the threat that Herod posed to the newborn Christ. But have we changed? Are we different as a result of our participation in the great mystery of Christmas? Or have we returned to our lives, perhaps with a few new gifts, but otherwise no different?
We do not know what happened to the magi. The Bible never speaks of them again. We do know that they returned by another way, that is, if at least physically, they went back to their own land differently than the way that they came. What a shame it would be if that was the only difference that the birth of Christ made in their lives. The magi had the opportunity to be the very first to go out to the nations and tell them about the birth of the Messiah. What a shame it would be if the magi forgot about the newborn King of the Jews and told no one. And what a shame it would be if the only difference that Christmas made in our lives was that we got a new sweater or kitchen gadget. Ideally, the magi’s lives would be entirely changed by their experience of Christ. Likewise, our lives should be entirely changed by the birth of Christ. How can that happen? How can our lives be changed by the reality of Christ’s Incarnation?
Traditionally, the feast of the Epiphany celebrates that, in the wise men, the message of Christ was first made known to the nations. Having just celebrated the birth of Christ, it is now our task to continue this proclamation of the Gospel to the world. If the magi really understood what they experienced in Bethlehem, they wouldn’t be able to stop telling everyone about it. And if we truly understand what we celebrate at Christmas, we won’t be able to stop telling everyone about it. Our parish mission statement is to go and make disciples of all nations. That magi were the beginning of that mission. Now it is our responsibility to continue it. But that means we cannot keep silent. If we are going to make disciples of all nations, we have to tell people the Good News. May we find, in the joy and peace which comes from the birth of Christ, a renewed desire to tell all people about Jesus. Let us resolve that, like the magi, we will return differently. Let us pray that God will give us the grace to continue the proclamation of the Gospel. May this year’s celebration of Christmas make us different. May the message of Christmas take root in our lives, so that we can go and make disciples of all nations.