“Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem ...” The story is so familiar.
We so easily see the Epiphany story as a fairytale conclusion to the Christmas season. Magi from the east, a star, camels, special gifts for the newborn king. These are valuable reflections on the beginnings of the life of the Messiah and his different roles. However, these spectacular events may keep us from looking underneath to see the ordinary and sometimes conflicted lives that were the day- to-day reality of the Holy Family.
The magi from the east came from a distance and traveled as they willed. They needed no visas, entry cards or passports. But once they arrived in a territory or country, they were completely subject to the whims of the local ruler.
King Herod was the local ruler in Jerusalem. When the magi came onto his radar, it wasn’t their language, dress or entourage that got Herod’s attention. It was their quest. They had traveled to Jerusalem looking for a prophesied “king of the Jews.” From that point on, Herod dominated the story. His power and control were at stake. A rival king was a threat to Herod. Even if that king was a newborn.
Herod was determined to find this newborn king and do away with him. So, in telling the magi that they might find him in Bethlehem, Herod wanted a report back to help him locate and destroy the child.
The magi followed the re-emerged sign of the star and discovered the promised child. How astonished must Mary and Joseph have been to welcome these visitors from a far-off country. What delight they must have experienced as the visitors shared precious gifts with their child.
The magi were warned in a dream, and they departed by a different route to avoid giving King Herod information about the child. Not long after, a dream also informed Mary and Joseph that their child was no longer safe in Bethlehem. They must leave their homeland and strike out for a distant place. Jesus, Mary and Joseph became refugees in Egypt.
In recent years, the church has assigned this week between Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord as a time to focus on the plight of people who are migrants and refugees. The magi were migrants in their travels seeking the messiah. The Holy Family became refugees in the land of Egypt.
From earliest times, people around the world have migrated from one place to another for countless reasons: to find food, to escape threats and violence, to seek employment, to flee repressive governments, and on and on. The case is the same today. In fact, at this point in history, migrants and refugees number in the hundreds of thousands due to armed conflicts, hunger and political and economic instability.
How many times every week do we hear the stories of women, men and children fleeing from Aleppo and other Syrian towns for their very lives? Families and individuals make long and dangerous journeys because they can no longer bear the devastating conditions of their homelands.
Beginning today, we dedicate a week to migrants and refugees, under the theme: “A Stranger and You Welcomed Me.” Let us reflect on how we, our forebears, and people we know have been or are migrants or refugees. May we find ways to ease the pain and burden of migrants and refugees — those in our midst or at a distance.
In the name of Christ, what mercy can we show to those struggling with the realities of being migrants or refugees?