The Infancy Narratives in the gospels of Mathew and Luke are filled with rich symbolism. The Evangelists were Christians of the first century whose lives were dramatically changed after the death and resurrection of Jesus. It was their deep faith in Jesus and their concrete experience of the Christian community that informed the theology that permeates the Christmas story.
We tend to create communities with conditions: who’s in and who’s out is based on whether a person looks, thinks or believes like we do. So why would the magi, foreigners who didn’t believe in the God of Israel, be so important to Matthew when he was writing his infancy narrative?
The magi were most likely priests of Zoroaster, an ancient religious cultic tradition in Persia that studied the stars. They paid attention to what was happening in the natural world, and they followed their conscience. That led them to meet Jesus and worship him in their own unique way. By contrast, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem refused to acknowledge the new-born king, were threatened by him, and plotted to kill him.
Matthew’s nativity scene is an unexpected cross-cultural celebration. Mary and the child are vulnerable, but the Holy Family welcomed the magi like they were part of it. And the magi in turn brought their own unique gifts to the community. Matthew really wants his readers to know that Jesus is universal; Christmas is for everybody
, not just those who are “in” the community, or who look, think and believe like we do.
“One will never understand the infancy narratives without first being convinced that all Gospel material has been colored by the faith and experience of the church of the first century.”
Fr. Raymond Brown, SS, "An Adult Christ at Christmas"