Sunday, January 04, 2009

Epiphany: Adoration by the Magi (Matthew 2:1-11)

(The following is an excerpt from my Advent presentation on Eucharistic Adoration.)
The book of Genesis tells us that God created the stars “for signs and for seasons and for days and years.” (Gen. 1:14b) Some two thousand years ago, the most miraculous sign in the heavens was witnessed by foreign astrologers who read it correctly. They came and worshiped Jesus… why? They weren’t Jews. They weren’t subjects of a Jewish kingdom! These wise men from afar recognized in Jesus the prophesied King of the Jews, the perfect heir of David’s throne: they saw in him the Christ, the Messiah of the whole world.

Over the centuries, various Church Fathers — Irenaeus, Ambrose, Ephrem of Syria, Gregory Nazienzen, Augustine, Pope Leo the Great — have interpreted these priceless gifts the same way. The gold was a sign of Jesus’ kingship. The frankincense, a sweet-smelling resin used in incense, was a sign of his divinity, because incense was burned in an offering to God. And the myrrh, a resin which was used in the anointing and embalming of the deceased, was a sign of his humanity and mortality, dying for our sins.* As you behold and worship Christ with Mary and the Magi, lay your gifts at his feet as well.

Gold. Give the finest you have to the Lord, and hold nothing back. Just as the sacred vessels which hold the Body and Blood of our Lord should be made of precious metals, and not appear as common plates and cups; just as some monstrances are made of gold, fit to hold the King of Kings; just as Martha’s sister Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with costly perfumes: so too should we dedicate and consecrate that which is most precious to us to our Lord.

Frankincense. The book of Revelation tells us that the prayers of the saints rise like incense to the altar of God in heaven. So let your prayers rise before the Lord like sweet-smelling incense; make a PACT with the Lord, P-A-C-T, making prayers of petition, adoration, contrition, and thanksgiving. And let your thanksgiving be as fervent as your requesting; too often we pray and pray to the Lord for favors or graces and fail to thank Him with the same frequency and fervor when we receive them.

And myrrh. Place your sorrows and sufferings in the wounded hands of the Lord, and he will embrace you, holding you close to his sacred heart. Surrender to him the bitter sorrow that his Real Presence is veiled under the appearance of bread and wine, and pray for an increase of faith to believe what the Lord has said: “This is my body.” Pray the words of the man in Mark’s gospel: “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) Pray that you will one day see him as he is, in heaven.
* In the hymn "We Three Kings", the verses describe the gifts of the Magi in these ways, referring to Christ as "King and God and Sacrifice" (verse 5).

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