The Magi have reached Bethlehem; the humble dwelling of the King of the Jews has been thrown open to them; there, says St. Matthew, they found the Child with Mary his Mother. Falling down, they adore the divine King they have so fervently sought after, and for whom the whole earth has been longing.
Here we have the first commencement of the Christian Church. In this humble Stable, we have the Son of God made Man, presiding as Head over his mystical body; Mary is present, as the co-operatrix in the world’s salvation, and as the Mother of divine Grace; Juda is represented by this Holy Queen and her Spouse St. Joseph; the Gentiles are adoring, in the person of the Magi, whose faith is perfect now that they have seen the Child. It is not a Prophet that they are honoring, nor is it to an earthly King that they open their treasures; he, before whom they prostrate in adoration, is their God. “See, I pray you,” says St. Bernard, “and attentively consider how keen is the eye of faith. It recognizes the Son of God whether feeding at his Mother’s breasts, or hanging on the Cross, or dying in the midst of suffering; for the Good Thief recognizes him on the Cross, and the Magi recognize him in the Stable; he, in spite of the nails which fasten him, and they, in spite of the clouts which swathe him.”
So that all is consummated Bethlehem is not merely the birth-place of our Redeemer; it is the cradle of the Church. Well did the Prophet say of it: And thou, Bethlehem, art not the least among the princes of Juda. We can understand St. Jerome’s leaving all the ambitions and comforts of Rome, to go and bury himself in the seclusion of this Cave where all these mysteries were accomplished. Who would not gladly live and die in this privileged place, sanctified as it is by the presence of our Jesus, embalmed with the fragrance of the Queen of Heaven, filled with the lingering echoes of the songs of Angels, and fresh, even yet, with the memory of those ancestors of our faith, the holy Magi!
These happy Kings are not scandalized at the sight they behold on entering the humble dwelling. They are not disappointed at finding, at the end of their long journey, a weak Babe, a poor Mother, and a wretched Stable. On the contrary, they rightly understand the mystery. Once believing in the promise, that the Infinite God would visit his creature Man, and show him how he loved him—they are not surprised at seeing him humbling himself and taking upon himself all our miseries that he might be like us in all save sin. Their own hearts told them that the wound inflicted on man by pride was too deep to be healed by anything short of an extreme remedy; so that to them, these strange humiliations at Bethlehem bespeak the design and action of a God. Israel, too, is in expectation of the Messias, but he must be mighty and wealthy and exalted above all other kings, in earthly glory; the Magi, on the contrary, see in the humility and poverty of this weak Babe of Bethlehem the indications of the true Messias. The grace of God has triumphed in these faithful men; they fall down before him and, full of admiration and love, they adore him.
Who could describe the sweet conversations they held with his Blessed Mother? for the King himself, whom they were come in search of, broke not, even for their sakes, the voluntary silence he had imposed on himself by becoming an Infant. He accepted their homage, he sweetly smiled upon them, he blessed them; but he would not speak to them; Mary alone was to satisfy, by her sublime communications, the holy curiosity of the three pilgrims who represented the entire human race. How simply must she not have rewarded their faith and love, by announcing to them the Mystery of that virginal Birth which was to being salvation to the world; by telling them of the joys of her own maternal heart; and by describing to them the sweet perfections of the divine Child! They themselves would fix their eyes on the Blessed Mother and listen to her every word with devout attention; and oh! how sweetly must not divine grace have penetrated their hearts through the words of Her whom God himself has chosen as the means to lead men to the knowledge and the love of his sovereign Majesty! The Star, which but an hour ago had brightly shone for them in the heavens, was replaced by another, of a lovelier light and stronger influence; and it prepared them for the contemplation of that God who calls himself the bright and morning Star! The whole world seemed now a mere nothing in their eyes; the Stable of Bethlehem held within it all the riches of heaven and earth. They had shared in that long expectation of the human race, the expectation of four thousand years—and now it seemed but as a moment, so full and perfect was their joy at having found the God who alone can satisfy the desires of man’s heart.
They understood and entered into the merciful designs of their Emmanuel; they gratefully and humbly contracted with them the alliance he so mercifully made through them with the human race; they adored the just judgments of God, who was about to cast off an unbelieving people; they rejoiced at the glories of the Christian Church, which had thus been begun in their persons; they prayed for us, their posterity in that same Church.
We, dear Babe of Bethlehem!—we the Gentiles, who by our regeneration have become the posterity of these first Christians—we adore thee as they did. Since their entrance into Bethlehem, long ages have passed away; but there has been an unbroken procession of people and nations tending towards thee under the guidance of the Star of Faith. We have been made members of thy Church, and we adore thee with the Magi. In one thing are we happier than these first-born of the Church; we have heard thy sacred words and teachings, we have contemplated thy sufferings and thy Cross, we have been witnesses of thy Resurrection, we have heard the whole universe, from the rising to the setting of the sun, hymning thy blessed and glorious Name: well may we adore and love thee as King of the earth! The Sacrifice, whereby all thy Mysteries are perpetuated and renewed, is now offered up daily in every part of the world; the voice of thy Church is heard speaking to all men; and all this light and all these graces are ours! The Church, the ever-enduring Bethlehem, the House of the Bread of Life, gives thee to us; and we are forever feasting on thy adorable beauty. Yea, sweet Jesus, we adore thee with the Magi.
And thou, O Mary! teach us as thou didst teach the Magi. Unfold to us, and each year more clearly, the sweet Mystery of thy Jesus, and at length, win us over unreservedly to his service. Thou art our Mother—watch over us, and suffer us not to lose any of the lessons he teaches us. May Bethlehem, where we have entered in company with the holy Magi, work in us the renovation of our whole lives.