Behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, until it came and stood over where the child was. 10 And seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11 And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother; and falling down they adored him. And opening their treasures, they offered him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matt 2, DRE)
Pagan astrologers, the most superstitious of the superstitious, find God … by following a star.
After 2,000 years, we render them reputable royalty. But to a devout Jewish family, to the residents of Jerusalem, and even to the nominally Jewish-convert like Herod, the Magi were worse than the Romans. These very un-Wise Men dabbled in nature worship and magic spells (hence the moniker, "Magi"). Hailing from Babel, they babble in soothsaying and dabble in rituals that make a present-day wiccan look as tame as Rachel Ray.
And they find the Savior.
Their gifts are our best clue. Gold—forged from the vanity and extravagance of solely human effort. Frankincense—choking coals burnt to appease angry gods. Myrrh—the bitter burial herb reminding us that we will return to the earth from which we dug the gold, our dreams up in smoke.
They do not find the Savior. He finds them—by unearthing for them clues in His very creation:
19 Because that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God has manifested it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. His eternal power also and divinity (Rom 1, DRE)Unlike the Jews, the people of the Word, the Magi are gentiles, the people of the World. As God calls the Jews through the saving books of the Torah, so He calls the Gentiles through the saving truths of His Creation.
The Magi render to the Savior the very clues He gives them. Laying down the gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they show that they understand, even if darkly, in a mirror. The Epiphany is two-way communication.
The Incarnation radiates the Truth that the prophets did not forecast a future event; no, the Incarnation reveals that God has always been with us. Similarly, the astrology of the Magi is not a horoscope but a digging for a Truth more precious than gold.
All we have to account for our merely human efforts are squandered diggings, smoking embers, and bitter extracts. Yet, our very digging, burning, and extracting consummates the relationship with God; what we cannot take with us beyond death we must gift to our Savior—fruit of the vine and work of human hands.
4 Abide in me: and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine: you the branches. He that abides in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. (Jn 15, DRE)What we cannot take beyond the grave not only shows that, without Christ we can do nothing, but also expresses Jesus' self-offering: His golden rule, His incense offering, His burial.
With Him is buried all our futile efforts to abide by the Law (as if the Law were ever meant to be a book of rules for earning salvation). With Him is buried all our restless digging through the world (as if we could make a god of the dust of the earth).
The Epiphany is firmly planted at the gate of the New Year because it reminds us that, though we can craft clay by the work of our hands, we must lay it all down before the Savior, that He might breathe into it—and us—the breath of Life Eternal.