Saint Gregory the Great HomilyMt 2, 1-12
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is the king of the Jews who has just been born? For we have seen his star in the east, and come to worship him. "Hearing this, King Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Bringing together all the princes of the priests and the scribes of the people, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, as it was written by the prophet," And you, Bethlehem, the land of Judah, you are certainly not the least of the cities of Judah, for from you will come the leader who will lead my people Israel. "Then Herod, having called the wise men in secret, learned from them the precise moment when the star had appeared to them, and sending them to Bethlehem, he said to them," Go and inquire carefully about child, and when you find it, tell it to me, so that I, too, may go and adore it. "
After hearing the king, they went away. And behold, the star which they had seen in the east was before them, until it stopped above the place where the child was. At the sight of the star, they were filled with great joy. And when they came into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother; and worshiping, they worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him a gift of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they returned to their country by another way.
As you have just heard, dear brothers, in the gospel read to us, a king of the earth was troubled at the birth of the King of Heaven. For earthly greatness is confounded when heavenly majesty is revealed.
We must look for why it was an angel who appeared to the shepherds in Judea at the birth of the Redeemer, while it was not an angel, but a star who led the wise men from the East to worship him. This comes from the fact that the Jews knowing how to use their reason, it is a reasonable living being, here an angel, who was to inform them. The pagans, on the contrary, who did not know how to use their reason, are brought to the knowledge of the Lord, not by words, but by signs. Hence Paul's words: "Prophecies are given to believers, not to unbelievers, signs to unbelievers, not to believers" (1 Cor 14:22). The prophecies are given to the first as believers, not unbelievers. And it is as unbelievers that the second, unbelievers, receive signs.
It should also be noted that the preaching of the Apostles to these Gentiles is about our Redeemer reaching adulthood, while the announcement to the Gentiles by a star concerns Jesus little child, who still does not use his human body to speak . It was well in keeping with the reason that the preachers make known to us by their words the Lord when He spoke, and that the elements preach Him by their silence when He did not speak yet.
2. But in all the signs that marked the birth and death of the Lord, we must consider the hardness of heart of certain Jews, since neither the grace of the prophecies nor the miracles made them recognize the Lord. For all the elements have attested the coming of their Creator. And to speak of it in the manner of men, the heavens recognized in him their God, since they hastened to send him a star. The sea has recognized it, which offered itself at its feet as a solid path (see Mt 14:25). The earth recognized it, it trembled when the Lord died (see Mt 27:51). The sun has recognized him, which is the rays of his light (Mt 27:45). The rocks and the walls recognized him, they who split at the moment of his death (Mt 27: 51). Hell finally recognized him, he who returned the dead he held (see Mt 27, 52). And yet, the one whom all insensible elements have perceived as their Lord, the hearts of Jews still unfaithful do not recognize him as their God, and harder than stones, they do not wish to open themselves to repentance; they refuse to confess the one whom the elements, as we have said, have proclaimed God by the prodigies or the lacerations with which they have been the object.
The culmination of their guilt is that the one they despise once born, they learned long ago that it would be born. And they knew not only that he would be born, but also where he would be born. When questioned by Herod, they point out to him the place of the birth of the Savior, whom they learned through the authority of Scripture. And they put forward the proof that Bethlehem was appointed for the honor of seeing the birth of the new king, so that their knowledge becomes for them a cause of condemnation, at the same time as it brings relief to our faith. Isaac, blessing his son Jacob, well symbolized these Jews, who, though blind, prophesied: he did not see his son in the present moment, but foresaw for him many things in the future; just as the Jewish people, who were filled with the spirit of prophecy, but blind, did not recognize in the present moment the one whom he had predicted so much for the future.
3. Once the birth of our King is known, Herod resorts to trickery for fear of being deprived of his earthly kingdom. He asks to be told where the child will have been found; he pretends to want to worship him, with the intention of killing him if he can find him. But what can human malice do against a divine project? For it is written, "There is no wisdom, there is no prudence, there is no plan against the Lord" (Pr 21, 30). Indeed, the star appeared to the magi leads them; they find the newly born King, offer him presents, and are warned in a dream that they must not return to Herod. Thus it happens that Herod can not find that Jesus he seeks. He represents in his person the hypocrites, who, pretending to seek the Lord, never get to find him.
4. In this regard, it must be known that according to the Priscillian heretics, every man is born under the sign of a star. To support their mistake, they rely on the fact of the new star that arose when the Lord appeared in the flesh, and they think that this star thus appeared has settled its destiny. But let us weigh the words our gospel uses about this star: "Until it stopped above the place where the child was." Since it is not the child who ran to the star, but well, if we can say, the star to the child, it is not the star that fixed the destiny of the child, but this newborn child who stared at the fate of the star. That the faithful, however, exclude from their minds that there is a destiny. For life is governed only by the one Creator who gave it to men. Man was not created because of the stars, but the stars because of the man. Thus, to say that a star fixes the fate of a man is to pretend that man is under the power of his own slaves. When Jacob, at the exit of the maternal breast, held his brother's foot in his hand, so that the first to be born could come out completely, the next one had to start doing it. And yet, although both of their mothers gave birth at exactly the same time, their lives were all different.
5. But to this, astrologers are accustomed to reply that the influence of a star acts at a very precise moment. We reply that the time of a birth is long. So if the appearance of the sky changes every moment, they will have to give a new horoscope for each part of the body of the newborn.
Astrologers are also accustomed to say that one who is born under the sign of Aquarius is destined by lot to exercise in this life the job of fisherman. It seems, however, that there are no fishermen in Gétulie1. Who will pretend that where there is no fisherman, no one is born under the sign of Aquarius? Astrologers still insist that children born under the sign of Libra are future bankers; but many countries and peoples do not have bankers. It is therefore necessary for them to recognize, either that this sign of the zodiac is missing from them, or that its supposed effect is not fatal. On the other hand, among the Persians and the Franks, the transmission of royalty is hereditary. Who can tell how many other children are born as slaves at exactly the same instant as this or that king? And yet the sons of kings born under the same star as their slaves enter the crown, while those slaves begotten at the same time will die in their servitude. We said all this briefly about the star, so as not to appear to be silenced without refuting the stupidity of astrologers.
6. Magi offer gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold suited a king well; incense was presented to God as a sacrifice; and it is with myrrh that one embalms the bodies of the deceased. The magi proclaim, by their symbolic gifts, who they are worshiping. Here is gold: it is a king; here is the incense: it is a God; here is myrrh: he is a mortal. There are heretics who believe in his divinity without believing that his reign extends everywhere. They offer him good incense, but do not want to offer him gold too. There are others who recognize his kingship but deny his divinity. They offer him gold, but refuse to offer him the incense. Others finally confess both his divinity and his kingship, but deny that he has assumed mortal flesh. These offer him gold and incense, but do not want to offer him myrrh, symbol of the mortal condition he has assumed. For us, offer gold to the Lord who has just been born, confessing that he reigns in all places; offer him incense, recognizing that he who appeared in time was God before all times; offer him myrrh, recognizing that he whom we believe to be impassive in his divinity has also become mortal in assuming our flesh.
But gold, frankincense and myrrh can also be understood differently. Gold symbolizes wisdom, as Solomon testifies: "A desirable treasure lies in the mouth of the wise man" (Pr 21, 20, from the Septuagint). Incense burned in honor of God designates the power of prayer, as the psalmist testifies: "Let my prayer rise before your face like incense." (Ps 141: 2). As for myrrh, it represents the mortification of our flesh; so the holy Church says, concerning her servants fighting for God until death: "My hands have distilled myrrh" (Ct 5, 5). To the newly born king, therefore, we offer gold if we shine before it the brilliance of wisdom from above. We offer incense if, in the holy ardor of our prayer, we consume our carnal thoughts on the altar of our heart, thus allowing our desires of Heaven to spread for God their pleasant odor. We offer myrrh if we mortify the vices of the flesh by abstinence. For myrrh, as we have said, prevents the dead flesh from rotting. But to enslave this mortal body to luxurious debauchery is to let a dead flesh rot, as the prophet says about certain men: "The beasts of burden have rotten in their dung" (Jl 1, 17). That beasts of burden rot in their manure means that carnal men end their lives in the stench of lust. We offer to God the myrrh when, by the aromatics of our continence, we prevent the lust from making this mortal body rot.
7. The Magi still give us a very important lesson by returning to their country by another way. Indeed, what they do on the warning they have received tells us what we need to do. Our country is paradise, and once we know Jesus, we are forbidden to return to it by the way we followed in coming. Because we have moved away from our country by pride, disobedience, the pursuit of visible goods and the greed to taste the forbidden foods. But to return to it, one needs tears, obedience, contempt for visible goods and control of the appetites of the flesh. It is therefore by another way that we return to our country, since we are far from the joys of paradise by pleasures, we are brought back by lamentations.
Therefore it is necessary, dear brothers, that always dwelling in fear and always in expectation, we have before our eyes of heart, on the one hand, our guilty actions, and on the other, the extreme rigor of judgment. Consider that the rigorous Judge will come; he threatens us with judgment, but he remains hidden. He strikes sinners with horror, and yet he is still patient. If it differs from coming, it is to find less to condemn. Expose our faults in tears, and in the words of the psalmist, "let us hasten to present ourselves before him by confession" (Ps 95, 2). Let us not take in any of the delusions of pleasure or the seductions of vain joy. Very close, indeed, is the Judge who affirmed: "Woe to you who laugh now, because you will grieve and weep" (Lk 6, 25). Solomon also said, "Laughter will mingle with sorrow, and joy will end in mourning." (Pr 14, 13). And also: "I kept laughing for a mistake, and said to joy: why do you let yourself be trapped?" (Qo 2, 2). And again: "The heart of the wise is in the place of sorrow, and the heart of fools in the place of joy." (Qo 7, 4)
Let us have great fear of the commandments of God, in order to celebrate in the truth his solemn feast. For the acceptable sacrifice to God is the pain inspired by sin. The psalmist attests to it: "The sacrifice in honor of God is a contrite spirit" (Ps 51:19). Our past sins have been washed away by baptism; but since then we have committed many others, and we can no longer be washed by baptismal water. Since even after baptism, we have defiled our lives, baptize our conscience with our tears. Thus, we will return our country by another way. Property has removed us by their attraction; that the evils bring us back there by their bitterness, with the help of Our Lord ...
1 Former country of North Africa.