NO Kings?? – Epiphany of the Lord – Matthew 2:1-12

The Epiphany story is colourful, dramatic, and full of mystery. The Magi, pilgrim astrologers of the East, follow a star in search of the divine and give the story an exotic flavour. They are from the East, a sign that the messiah is for all peoples, not just the Jews. God chooses to reveal himself to outsiders, strangers, and foreigners.

The term Magi is a plural form of magoi, in the Greek language. While Christian tradition holds that the Magi were kings, the evangelist Matthew does not tell us that they were three men or three kings. He simply calls them the Magi or astrologers. Perhaps many have assumed there were three because of the gifts which were a total of three objects.

A more precise description might be that the Magi belonged to the priestly caste of Zoroastrianism, which paid particular attention to the stars. Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest religions in the world and we have many Parses, as we call them here in our own city of Mumbai. It was the official religion of Persia before Islam. This priestly caste gained an international reputation for astrology, which was at that time highly regarded as a science.

The magi were also reputed to be adept at occult arts, such as the interpretation of dreams, fortune telling, and magic. They were well known for telling fortunes and preparing daily horoscopes. Here they are clearly thought of as astronomers or astrologers, who have found the rising of a star to be of world-historical significance. They were scholars of their day and enjoyed access to the Persian emperor.

As a side note, astrology and horoscopes are still popular. The fact that Matthew treats these magai kindly does not mean that astrology or horoscopes are legitimate. They constitute an alternate religious system incompatible with Christian faith, because they ascribe too much significance to the movement of stars. God is in control, not stars. God’s use of a star to guide these magai to Jesus was a one-time thing. God’s primary means of revelation are prophets, scriptures, sacraments, and Son—not stars.

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