The Epiphany of the Lord
Reading 1 IS 60:1-6
Responsorial Psalm PS 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13.
- (cf. 11) Lord, every nation on earth will adore you
Reading 2 EPH 3:2-3A, 5-6
Alleluia MT 2:2
- Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MT 2:1-12
Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord
This year we are celebrating the Solemnity of the Epiphany on its traditional date. This Sunday is considered the 12th day of Christmas! Of course, our celebration of the Christmas season does not end with Epiphany but continues until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord next Sunday.
If you look at the crib won’t you think the magi came to see Jesus there?! But the text of today’s gospel says they entered “the house and saw the child with Mary his mother.” Now you have the answer to the trivia question of where did the magi see the baby Jesus. It happened in their house.
The magi had to be familiar with the prophecy of a king to be born. They must have been looking for signs that it had happened and the sign must have been powerful as they make a pilgrimage to see the “newborn king of the Jews” before google earth or map quest and before planes, trains and automobiles. The caravan was certainly more than three people, a necessity for their safety. The magi were a caste of wise men, variously associated with interpretation of dreams. In later Christian tradition they became kings and it was decided they were three and they named them Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. Caspar was represented as a black. They were understood to be representatives of the Gentile world in all its racial diversity who come to Christ, from the East which could be Persia, East Syria, or Arabia. They bring gifts of gold signifying the kingship of Christ, frankincense signifying his divinity, and myrrh signifying his redemptive suffering.
Pope Benedict XVI wrote that “The Magi set out because of a deep desire which prompted them to leave everything and begin a journey. It was as though they had always been waiting for that star.”
Throughout the Christmas season, we celebrate the Incarnation. God is made present in the person of Jesus, the baby born among the animals, whose birth was heralded by angels singing hymns of glory. In today’s Gospel it is no surprise that in searching for the “newborn king of the Jews” the Magi from the east would first travel to the most important city in Israel and then to the very dwelling of the king. Within the court of King Herod, which was known for its decadence, the Magi likely found all of the trappings of wealth and power one would expect from royalty, but they did not find the king they sought.
The chief priests and scribes sent the Magi to Bethlehem where the star which had guided them along their journey “stopped over the place where the child was.” In a simple house in a small village, they come face to face with Emmanuel—God-with-us. Immediately, the Magi bowed down in worship before presenting their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In the figures of the Magi, the revelation of Jesus, the light of the world, is brought to the people outside of the land of Israel. Their way of coming to this moment has been different from their Jewish counterparts. While angels proclaim Jesus’ birth to Mary, Joseph and the shepherds in the fields, creation itself proclaims the good news to the Magi in the form of the star that they follow.
Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus will turn to his closest disciples and ask them, “Who do you say that I am?”(16:15) In today’s readings, we find many answers to this question. Jesus is the light by which nations shall walk, as prophesied by Isaiah. He is Lord of both the Jews and the Gentiles as Paul writes to the community in Ephesus. And he is the humble child in a home in Bethlehem who will soon have to flee all he has ever known to seek shelter and safety in a foreign country. The word epiphany means a sudden revelation or stroke of insight that usually catches one unaware. Herod comes to the sudden realization that he is not the sole, or even the most important king in Israel. The Magi discover the light of the world at home with his mother in Bethlehem. Mary received another affirmation of her marvelous child’s identity.
Throughout the Advent and Christmas gospels we have seen God communicate with people in many different ways. Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem all receive angelic visitors to tell them of Jesus’ birth. Elizabeth and John the Baptist know of Jesus’ presence in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. In today’s gospel the scribes and priests know the Messiah’s birthplace through the prophecies they have studied their entire lives. For the magi, creation itself points the way to God through their study of the stars and the new star they have charted and followed.
Each Christmas season we are introduced to this child anew, the God of creation in the vulnerable guise of a newborn child, the one who is Emmanuel.
In the year to come, how will we proclaim this child to all we meet? Perhaps we will have the opportunity to bring his light to places of darkness. Perhaps we will recognize him in the faces of the ones our society has cast aside. Perhaps in our ventures into the great outdoors, creation itself will bring us new insight into our Creator God.
If we are attentive, we will find that every moment of our lives our God is longing to reveal self to us. Let us open our eyes, our minds and our hearts to Almighty God.