We know that the traditional names of the three wise men were Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. There’s a legend that they were three different ages: Caspar was a very young man, Balthasar was middle-aged, and Melchior was very old. Supposedly when they arrived at Bethlehem after following the star, they went into the cave where Jesus had been born one at a time. Melchior, as the oldest, went first, and he discovered no one there but a very old man his own age, with whom he felt immediately at ease; the two old men spoke very wisely of the beauty of having memories and the importance of being grateful for life’s blessings. Melchior exited the cave, and Balthasar went in; he found no one but a teacher his own age, and the two middle-aged men passionately conversed about leadership and responsibility. When Balthasar was finished, it was Caspar’s turn; when he entered the cave, he met a young prophet, and the two young men spoke excitedly of the ongoing need in the world for reform and of the promise of the future. After Caspar left the cave, the three wise men all went back into the cave together—and there was no one there but the infant Jesus, along with Mary and Joseph. Later on, as the wise men pondered this mystery, they understood: the Savior speaks to us at every stage of life. The old hear the call to integrity and wisdom; the middle-aged hear the call to example and accountability; and the young hear the call to identity and intimacy (William J. Baush, A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers, pp. 464-465). In the same way, God in His love speaks to people of every age and condition, and His Good News of salvation has a personal message and invitation for each one of us.
The readings on the Feast of the Epiphany use powerful images to make a very important point: the Gospel (Mt 2:1-12) is intended for everyone. The prophet Isaiah (60:1-6) foretold the day when the holy city of Jerusalem would become a light for all nations; peoples from every land would gather there in order to proclaim the praises of the Lord. St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (3:2-3, 5-6) speaks of God’s secret plan: the salvation not only of the Jews, but through them the redemption of the entire world. This was a breath-taking and exciting idea: through Christ, a Jew, the Gentiles or non-Jews would also be able to inherit God’s Kingdom. Jesus came to save everyone. The first people to worship Him after His birth, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, were all Jews, and this was appropriate, for the Jews were God’s Chosen People, and they had been longing for the promised Messiah for many generations. Immediately after this, however, the newborn King was worshipped by foreigners; the arrival of the wise men, or magi, indicated that God’s plan of salvation was far more ambitious than the Jewish people had expected. God does not treat anyone unfairly; He does not leave anyone out. Salvation is offered to all who will accept it.
You, I, and every other person in the world are not here by accident; God had us personally in mind before we were born, and our individual destiny—if we accept it—is eternal happiness in His Kingdom, where we will truly become ourselves in a wonderful and unimaginable experience of complete individuality and total unity with the Lord. We are offered the chance to become our very best selves, and this experience will be far more glorious and amazing than anything we can begin to comprehend. Our response to the Gospel determines whether or not this royal promise will be fulfilled; God’s message to us is ever new, personal, and unique.
If we are very young, Jesus is asking us to place our lives at His service and to choose those values and ideals that have eternal significance. Many societies throughout history have undervalued the idealism and abilities of young people, but God doesn’t; He treasures every child, every teenager, and every young adult, and wants to help prepare them for a future of immeasurable holiness, satisfaction, and joy. If we’re middle-aged, Jesus is asking us to reflect on the lessons we’ve learned so far and the ways we’ve encountered Him, and to continue using our opportunities to guide and serve other people. The middle years of life, which lie between the energy of youth and the leisure of retirement, have unique challenges and opportunities—and Jesus wants to be present with us in all these events. If we’re older, Jesus is asking us to remember the ways God has blessed us and to give thanks, and to give an example of wisdom and faith by trusting in Him as life draws to a close. Our society glorifies youth and fears death; God is asking the retired and the elderly to be living reminders to the rest of us that everyone is important, regardless of age, and that faith can turn health problems and the possibility of impending death into occasions of grace.
Have you made any New Year’s resolutions yet? If not, consider trying this. Spend a few minutes meditating on today’s Gospel; picture yourself standing outside the cave at Bethlehem. Melchior, Balthasar, and Caspar have each entered the cave and then come out, one at a time; now it’s your turn. When you enter, in what manner does Jesus appear to you? What does He discuss with you? What is His message to you? What can you do this year to live this message out?
God’s word is ever new, ever challenging, and ever unique to each one of us. May it truly be planted in our hearts, and may it truly transform our lives.