Chrysologus asks what it means that the Messiah should have been born at a time when the race of Jewish kings had ceased, and when the throne was occupied by such a malevolent tyrant; how could such a one be driven out? Only by the same force what would release us all from the reign of the evil one – Christ Jesus; as God sustained the Jews even during the Herodian tyranny, so will he sustain us through the woes of this time.
Gregory the Great points out the difference between the two signs given: to the Jews the angel spoke, for they were within the Law of God; but to those outside the Law, a sign, a star was given – this in accordance with what Paul told the Corinthians. Herod is a model for the false disciple, who, declaring he wishes to worship Christ, wishes in reality only to betray him.
Chrysostom comments that it was natural that the tyrant should have been afraid, but asks why the whole of Jerusalem was, when the prophets had foretold his coming. But the Jews were complacent, and they had really ceased to expect the Messiah, and so not even the coming the Magi made them stop and think. We do likewise if we fail to keep a look out and to be prepared for his coming – for as we are told, none but the Father knoweth the hour.
St Cyril of Alexandria tells us that it was not the words of the Magi which troubled Herod, but rather the speculations of the people of Jerusalem that the Messiah had been born. He fails to understand that they are a symbol of the fact that salvation is now come to the whole world. ‘Israel’ means ‘a mind that sees God’, and now they come to see God, the Church from among the Gentiles will be the true Israel, for it will see God. The Magi signal the fact that the whole world will pay tribute to Christ. Their journey reflects the journey of faith, and when we come before the presence of the Lord, we too should kneel; our gift is the dedication of our life to Him.
Gregory the Great writes that gold represents wisdom, whilst incense represents prayer and myrrh the mortification of the flesh. Our gold to him is the shining wisdom which comes from the Divine word; our incense should be the prayers we offer; and our myrrh is the restraint and self-denial we practice.
God’s gift to the Magi for the faithfulness in following the star without question is the warning not to return via Jerusalem; those who come to Christ to worship do not return to Herod. Those who sin and cross from Christ to the devil may return by repentance, but those who abandon the devil for Christ do not easily return. The Magi are an example to us all that we should abandon everything and search for Christ. He is indeed the light that lighteth the Gentile.