I was originally hoping to have written this article at the tail end of the Christmas season to coincide with the Feast of the Epiphany, the celebration of the Magi finding Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Bethlehem. Instead, I find myself finally finding time during perhaps a more fitting celebration- Dr. Martin Luther King Day.
But what do the Three Kings have to do with Martin Luther King or his message? Superficially it may not seem as though there would be much that would connect the two; however, looking deeper in to the meaning behind the appearance of the Magi in the birth story of Jesus reveals a fitting connection to Dr. King's message of unity.
The birth story of Jesus is a story of unity and togetherness. We have Mary and Joseph representing the everyday citizens of Israel, the shepherds representing the poor and marginalized, and finally the Magi who represent the unbelieving- the pagans who do not believe in the word of God. But, rather than being portrayed as a strange enemy from a far off land, the Magi are portrayed as righteous and respectful men of power and wealth who humble themselves before an infant and His seemingly normal, unremarkable parents. The story even goes as far as portraying them against Israel's resident leader, Herod the Great, who unlike these kings can only view Jesus as a threat.
The story of the Magi ends with them leaving gifts for Jesus and departing for their home without telling Herod Jesus' location after having been warned in a dream. Though this can certainly be taken at face value, maybe we can look at this event through a more spiritual lens as well? Perhaps we can also take this to mean that these good Kings were being warned not to let themselves become wrathful, insecure kings like Herod. To not forget that despite their power and differing beliefs, that their true worth was found in the goodness and meekness of their hearts.
A priest I admire a lot as a great teacher explained the tale this way- he believed that everyone, whether they know it or not, is seeking Jesus and that sometimes there are many ways to a single destination. Of course, he believes that Catholicism is the best, most direct route on that journey (and this author is inclined to agree with him), but that does not mean that a person who does good but with a different perspective goes without recognition by the Father. The Prophets say that if God did not want something to exist in the world it simply would not exist, thus, I am drawn to the conclusion that the multitude of paths laid out to mankind has value to the Lord and that He wishes for us all to meet at the destination together.
In the story of the Nativity we find the meaning of the "neighbor" we are to love and value as we love and value ourselves- it is everyone. Our peers, the poor and marginalized, and the alien and powerful. It is a message that so many of our great leaders have tried to pass on to us and which were embodied in our modern culture by Dr. King. Unity is the desired result our Creator has for us; a unity built on respect and appreciation for those around us no matter their social standing, faith, or origin. Considering this hope our Father has for us, let us all seek to heed the warning the Magi received- to not be subservient to a world of hostility and insecurities, but to find our way home on a different route.
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