Years ago I discovered this image called “The Dream of the Magi” from the top of a pillar in the 12th Century Autun Cathedral in France.
It has come to mind every year on the Feast of the Epiphany since.
We focus on many parts of the Epiphany story: the gifts the Magi bring; their following the star; their identity as the first non-Jews to seek Jesus, showing that Jesus brings salvation to all people.
But we never spend much time talking about what makes them decide to journey across hundreds of miles following a star. They say to Herod: “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
There were many stars; why this one, and why that journey to Jerusalem and Bethlehem?
The artist must have had that question too, and here they are supplying a moment in the story the Bible doesn’t show. Here we see the journey of the Magi really begin. An angel told them that this was the star to follow.
The “annunciation” we typically think about in the Church is the announcement of the Angel Gabriel to Mary, bringing the news that she has been chosen to bear the Son of God. That’s from the Gospel of Luke. But there are other annunciations in what we think of as the Christmas story: in the gospel of Matthew, it is Joseph who has an Angel appear to him in a dream. And later in Luke there is an annunciation to the shepherds by an angel telling them good news of great joy and to go to Bethlehem and find the child lying in the manger.
The Annunciation to Mary.
The Annunciation to Joseph.
The Annunciation to the shepherds.
And finally, here, in this art, the annunciation to the Magi.