Since the late fourth century in the East, the Adoration of the Magi has been celebrated on December 25, as part of the Nativity of Christ. Following a more ancient tradition, the coming of the Magi to offer gifts to the newborn Christ in Bethlehem continues to be celebrated in the West as a separate feast, on January 6, marking the Epiphany, or the "manifestation" of Jesus as Messiah to the nations and to the whole world. During these twelve days of Christmas, the Pappas Patristic Institute presents a sermon on this theme attributed to St Ephrem the Syrian, celebrating the manifestation of the incarnate God to the Magi, who were led from Persia by the Spirit, and by a miraculous star, to the royal city of Jerusalem, where they inquired after the newborn king.
When the Magi Arrived in Jerusalem
St Ephrem the Syrian
When a traveler happens upon a good traveling companion, he is caught up in the conversation, and the labor of his long journey is turned into joy. For sustained, as by a staff, by the effortless discourse on his tongue, he seems to walk along at a gallop, with his mouth requiring no rest. And so, as he divides the burden of each step with his knees, he also lightens the long journey with his lips.
In the same way, indeed, when Christ was born, the Magi, seeing the star and adopting it as a traveling companion, took up the long journey, lightening their burden by asking the way. “Where is the king?” they inquired, interrogating the Hebrews as furtive seekers of the one who had been born. But the Jews, in characteristic fashion, said to those who asked: “What are you trying to do, you foreigners? What are you saying, gentlemen? Why do you bring this dangerous report? Why do you announce a new king in the royal city? Why do you cast yourselves headlong towards an untimely death? Why do you prepare a sword for your own necks with your tongue? Why do you prepare your graves with your mouth and wake sleeping death against yourselves? Has Persia forgotten that king Herod yet lives, and yet you seek another? Do you think he will offer you lavish thanks when he hears this and repay you with great gifts?”
Yet the answer of the Magi to all these things was succinct: “We have seen his star in the east and we have come to worship him” (Mt 2:2). It was not enough for them to ask after him, but they also spoke of worshiping him. And by saying this they showed that the one who had been born is God.
When the report of all these things came to Herod, he temporarily excused the Magi and called the wise men of the Jews, saying, “Where is the Christ to be born?” They answered, “In Bethlehem of Judea” (Mt 2:5). O the wonder! These Jews know the place (topos) and yet they denigrate the birth (tokos)! They announce Bethlehem, and yet they remain silent about the Incarnation! They point to Judea, and yet deny his kingship! If thus it is written, why do you not understand? If you have read it in the Scriptures, why do you not believe it? If he is to be born in Bethlehem, why will you not worship him!
When Herod understood from these things that the Magi did not come simply to ask questions, he quietly called them and inquired of them the exact time when the star appeared, saying, “Tell me the way by which you came and the reason for your journey. Do not exclude us. Confide in me the reason for your presence here. Tell me who it was that convinced you to worship someone of another race. What benefit did you hope to receive from such an arduous journey? If it was not a human being who summoned you, you must have had a messenger (angelos) in the form of a star. Give me a precise description of its rising! I wish to learn the time and the moment in which even a star was taught to obey a baby that sends it forth! so that I, too, may go and worship him (Mt 2:8).
Having thus informed him of the time of the newly-fashioned star, the Magi left, deciding not to return to Herod. At that time, their traveling companion, the star, appeared to them once more, and coming to the place where the child lay, it extended itself, and by its position cried out to the Magi: “This is the king to whom I led you like some imperial standard. He is the one who sent me to you and who kindled the fire by which I guided you.”
Who, then, even if he should seek for it, could discover such a birth? What discourse could explain the manner of this mystery? Let no one try to approach the incomprehensible with human conceptions. For there is no longer any need to measure out the distance there. What is necessary is faith alone. Leave off your seeking, O man! and learn to worship him with the Magi. First, try to look directly at the sun, and then you will know how to gaze without harm on the offspring of the Virgin. For the divine is a consuming fire (Dt 4:24; Hebr 12:29). If you wish to handle the flame, you will find nothing and only burn your hands.
For who, in being born, has shaken the heaven with the hymnody of angels? Who has caused a star to rise and made theologians out of those who before were but astrologers? Who is called ‘Lord’ by the angels from his mother’s womb? Indeed, who was called by so great a name even before his birth? Who has ever been worshiped by a leap in the womb (cf. Lk 1:44)? Who has ever received worship while still in the womb by those also in the womb? Who is it that has drawn Magi from Persia to worship him? For, in truth, it is good to marvel at the faith of those men, that seeing a cave and such great poverty, they did not doubt. For they were taught in the Spirit that he who is rich became poor for our sake (cf. 2 Cor 8:9); that he lays claim to the whole universe even as he is born in a cave; that he wraps the firmament in clouds even as he is wrapped in swaddling bands, as is the custom of newborns; that he rests in the bosom of the Father, even as he lies bodily in a manger; that he possesses the throne of the Father even as he is borne in the arms of his mother.
As for us, let us glorify the Nativity of the Lord in the flesh from a Virgin and his adoration by all creation, offered for his whole life, in the same Christ, to whom be glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.
 This Greek text (CPG 4107, BHG 1912m), which has no Syriac counterpart, exists in just one known manuscript: the 9th to 10th century Sinod. gr. 284 (Vladimir 215) in the Russian State Historical Museum in Moscow (ГИМ). It is translated here from the edition of Konstantinos Phrantzolas, vol. 7 (Thessaloniki: Garden of the Panagia, 1998), 433-438, not having been printed in the earlier edition of Assemani. There is an earlier translation in Trevor Crowell, “The Biblical Homilies of Ephraim Graecus” (Doctoral diss., The Catholic University of America Press, 2016), 211-213. Cf. M. Aubineau et F.-J. Leroy, “Une homélie grecque inédite attribuée à Éphrem: ‘Lorsque les Mages se présentèrent à Jérusalem’ (BHG 1912m, CPG 4107),” Orpheus 14 (1993): 40-75.
For more on the Greek Ephrem, visit the Ephrem Graecus project at saintephrem.org.