Matthew is the only one of the four Evangelists to tell us about the Magi from the East who followed a star in order to honor the birth of Jesus. From the 6th century, Tradition tells us that their names were : Melchior, Balthazar et Gaspard. The Liturgy opens the Scriptures for us, lighting up the way traveled by the Magi as they followed the star : “Rise up ! Shine ! For your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen over you. Nations will walk in your light and kings in your brightness. Multitudes of camels will cover you (...) They will come from Saba, bringing gold and incense and proclaiming the praises of God” Isaiah declares (Is 60, 1-6). Psalm 72, a long prayer for the king given by God for his people, also sings : “All the kings will bow down before him, all the nations will serve him” (Ps 72, 11).
The entire passage is built on oppositions : Jerusalem, the royal capital, is opposed to Bethlehem, the humble village, but the place from which David came. Herod is called king but the Child of Bethlehem is the true king. A star accompanies the Magi but it will disappear while they are in Jerusalem. The Scribes are the scholars of the Scriptures but the Magi are the ones who will go to meet him...
The Magi are seeking the King of the Jews whose star they have seen in the East. They set out placing their faith in a miraculous revelation, the star which their function and their knowledge had given them the predisposition to discover. They come to render homage to the child whose birth was thus announced. By their attitude, the Magi are able to recognize the divine revelation and profit from it. They set out thanks to the star and arrive, not in Bethlehem, but in Jerusalem where the star seems absent.
In Jerusalem, Herod calls the Scribes and has them read the Scriptures. The Scribes understand : putting together in a completely new way texts which, until then, were sparse and silent. Their reading is full of the clairvoyance of the prophet Micah (5, 1) whom they link to another text in a unique way (2 Sam 5, 2), designating the shepherd who will rule over Israel. Their eyes were able to read and to recognize the place where the Messiah of God would be born. But they do not follow the route of the poor, the one the Magi took. Herod pretends to.
The Magi set out again and the star shows them only a lodging, Mary and the Child. They enter and experience immense joy that no one can ever take from them. And right away they offer the best of their wealth : gold honors the king, incense a God, myrrh the one who will experience death but conquer it. The presents of the Magi, like their long trek, recognize the king whose kingdom is elsewhere.
At the end of this episode and, after their adoration, a dream sent by God warns the Wisemen to return by another route. Yet, henceforward, all the peoples of the earth have access to the way to God. From all the races, those walking by starlight , going out to meet the king of humility, the Savior, will be able to savor the happiness of God’s coming and his entry into humanity. Let us place ourselves among these travelers whose gaze is fixed on the star and Scripture accessible to hand and heart...
A word of explanation :
In the Greek world at the time of Jesus, people talked about a star’s appearing at the birth of great men, their good star. In the Jewish world also and a midrash tells how astrologers announced the birth of Abraham to the king : : "they saw a star rise in the heavens... That meant a child who would take possession of the whole world." The star pointed out the ways of God. The star of the Magi traversed the Scriptures and greeted the Messiah of God, the king of Israel. The East was a symbolic term to designate the Messiah. The proof is in the Septuagint’s translation of the Hebrew word for seed as Orient in Jer. 23, 5 ; Zach. 3, 8 ; 6, 12. In this context, the star is the symbol of Jesus’ royalty, drawing the nations who place their hope in him.