In today's story of the Magi, the things of God are communicated in a variety of different ways.
Through their observation of the skies, the Magi were able to deduce that something important on earth was happening, namely, a new king was born. It is not clear what they saw, be it a comet or a particular alignment of planets. Whatever they observed, for them it spoke of the things of God. That the created world speaks of God is commonly referred to as 'general revelation'.
But this is not the only type of revelation witnessed in this story.
The general revelation of a star took the Magi to Jerusalem. But from Jerusalem, they needed additional information to continue their quest. When Herod asked the chief priests and teachers of the law where the Messiah was to be born they pointed him to the Scriptures and a prophecy about Bethlehem: "But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel." Revelation that speaks of God (and in particular the saving work of Jesus) outside of what can be discerned from the creation is called 'special revelation'.
But general revelation and special revelation are not the only types of revelation witnessed in this story.
The story also notes how the Magi were warned about reporting back to Herod the location of the Messiah. This warning came in a dream. This type of revelation and its like, fall into a sub-category of special revelation that some call 'direct revelation'. This revelation includes any unmediated instruction from God or his messengers.
Following this brief review, it seems that there are all kinds of revelation occurring within this story. What is interesting to note is that while Herod, the chief priests, and teachers of the law had the benefit of the 'special revelation' of Scripture, and while 'general revelation' of that star would have been accessible to them as well, it is clear that few of them understood what was being communicated. Only the Magi had the epiphany.
What is seen in Scripture can also be observed in our own lives: You and your siblings were all raised in a Christian family yet you alone are the only one who continues to go to church; you taught your children the stories of Christ, yet as adults, none of them are actively following him. So why is this revelation (general, special, or direct) effective in the lives of some and seemingly missed by others? What accounts for an epiphany in one, and not in the other?
It would seem that revelation in itself is not effective but requires the work of the Holy Spirit. As Living Faith reminds us: "The Spirit enables people to receive the good news of Christ, to repent of their sins, and to be adopted as children of God." (4.2.1)
Maybe our prayers for our non-believing family and friends would best be directed not just to them reading Scripture or recognizing God in nature or coming to church with us, but having the Holy Spirit work in their hearts.
*image "The Adoration of the Magi" Heironymus Bosch circa 1515
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