Matthew 2:1-12
Camels in the Cathedral
by Rev. Matthew H. Zuberbueler

Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage."  When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel." 

Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star's appearance.  He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search diligently for the child.  When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage."  After their audience with the king they set out.  And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.  They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of god, frankincense, and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

Just when we think the fun of Christmas is dwindling, we encounter mysterious visitors bearing gifts. The story of the Magi fascinates believers each year and is rich in meaning. The theme of World Youth Day 2005, “We have come to worship Him,” was chosen because the event was held in Cologne, Germany, in whose cathedral a giant reliquary holds the relics of the Magi. Large enough to hold a camel, the ornate reliquary reminds us that the original Wise Men were real people who were willing to be led by a deeply held desire to know God.

At that same World Youth Day, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the mystery and meaning of the Magi. He said the gifts they brought with them were gifts clearly meant for a king, but a king who was also divine. These seekers were aware of the troubles in the world. They were seeking an answer in a king they believed was soon to be born. Their sincere quest contained surprises. The newborn king wasn’t at the palace. Instead, they continued to follow the star that led them to Him.

The baby King they found was clearly different from other kings. Pope Benedict said, “The new King, to whom they now paid homage, was quite unlike what they were expecting. In this way they had to learn that God is not as we usually imagine Him to be. This was where their inner journey began. It started at the very moment when they knelt down before this child and recognized Him as the promised King. But they still had to assimilate these joyful gestures internally. They had to change their ideas about power, about God and about man, and in so doing, they also had to change themselves. Now they were able to see that God's power is not like that of the powerful of this world. God's ways are not as we imagine them or as we might wish them to be.”

At the end of such a long pilgrimage we can understand something important about the willingness these Magi had to learn from the journey and to learn from the Child. The experiences of the pilgrimage of life are similar. The sacrifices made for a dearly held belief are sacrifices that we hope will bear fruit. In the case of the Magi, the efforts they made to find Him changed them and gave them a docility to His way of exercising power. Of course they wanted to learn from the One they found, after all, He was the One who called them there. In our lives, we can trust that any sincere seeking we do will bring us closer to the truth Jesus wants us to find — even if we have to adjust what we thought we knew.

Pope Benedict continued, “God is different — this is what they now come to realize. And it means that they themselves must now become different, they must learn God's ways.

They had come to place themselves at the service of this King, to model their own kingship on His. That was the meaning of their act of homage, their adoration. Included in this were their gifts — gold, frankincense and myrrh — gifts offered to a King held to be divine. Adoration has a content and it involves giving. Through this act of adoration, these men from the East wished to recognize the child as their King and to place their own power and potential at His disposal, and in this they were certainly on the right path.”

The young people in Cologne had come as seekers too. We pray the mystery of Epiphany again this year as seekers. Together with the many who have sought Him before and who seek Him now we take to heart Pope Benedict’s words, “They must become men of truth, of justice, of goodness, of forgiveness, of mercy. They will no longer ask: how can this serve me? Instead, they will have to ask: How can I serve God's presence in the world? They must learn to lose their life and in this way to find it. Having left Jerusalem behind, they must not deviate from the path marked out by the true King, as they follow Jesus.”

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