Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, Year B.
Isaiah 60:1-6 – Ephesians 3:2-3 – 5-6 Matthew 2:1-12.
When a child is about to be born, the parents make comprehensive preparations for the care of a baby in their home – everything from the cradle, the baby clothes and toys to the decoration of the nursery. They take particular delight in gifts of things to make the nursery look beautiful and in toys for their new baby. In today’s gospel, we read that Jesus received gifts from the Magi, the “wise men … from the East”.
The Solemnity of the Epiphany celebrates the Infant Lord, Jesus Christ, being shown to the whole world for Who He Is. The word ‘Epiphany’ means ‘a revelation of great moment’, and in this context, it is used to indicate the manifestation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, not only to the Jews (the Chosen People of God) but also to the whole world. He, the Lord Jesus, is given to us all by God the Father as the Light of the world (Jn 8:12) to dispel our darkness (Ps 18:28). He is the guiding light (Jn 9:5) to lead us all to God (Jn 12:36). He is the beacon of hope for those without hope (1Jn 1:5ff).
Jesus is given to all peoples: both to those who believe in Him and to those who don’t, to those who serve Him and pay Him homage and to those who don’t, to those who accept Him and to those who reject Him, to those who know Him and His salvation and to those who don’t and who decline Him. He is given universally and continuously because He is eternally-begotten (Jn 3:16).
This is an essential lesson for us to take on board because in Him all creation is united, all of humanity is united (2Cor 5:17). Those who used to be perceived as different from us are seen in the light of the One given for us all: Jesus. In Him, there is no distinction between peoples, groups, races, nations, families, and so on (Col 1:16). As Simeon acknowledged, His light shines for all to see (Lk 2:32). The Light of Jesus shines out as a beacon to break down every barrier that separates us from one another and from God.
Let us reflect on the Magi. Who were they? Well, to start with, we know who they weren’t. They weren’t three kings. However, they were respected for the offices they held and for their capabilities and were received like envoys and diplomats with honour by kings and rulers. It was in that capacity that they were received by King Herod. They were ‘Magi’ – ‘wise men’. Magi were the right-hand men of rulers. They were academics, scholarly men who served the courts at the top level by interpreting official documents and communications. Their interpretative duties even extended to questions of astronomy and astrology.
A mission to discovery: The quest of the Magi was to discover the king whose sign in the stars was baffling them, and they were intent on pursuing their enquiries until they got the answer. These men were prepared to journey from one end of the known world to the other if necessary in order to fulfil their objective. They were prepared to set out into the unknown and to risk their lives, their personal comfort, to risk attack by robbers and rejection in order to get the answer they craved. How similar is that to our personal journey of faith? How far are we prepared to risk everything we have in order to get to the nub of our Faith in God? Let me ask you this: how far are you yourself ready to go to the ends of the earth (metaphorically-speaking) for Him Whom you believe in and hold dear? Arise and shine out (Is 60:1) your faith!
Was their going to Herod the wrong move? Well, the wise men were presuming that the new-born king would be found in the palace of a king, and that that king would be the father of the infant. That would have been the logical assumption, which is why they went to King Herod. But the ways of God are not our ways (Is 55:8f); and in this case, the Magi’s earthly reasoning let them down. Sometimes we too make the mistake of searching for God in the wrong places, in places where – according to our human thinking and reasoning – He ought to be. But the search for God is beyond the reach of our limited minds, plus it requires the firm foundation of faith. Where have you been searching for God? Herod looked to the chief priests and the scribes, to those who had the scriptural prophecies about the Messiah at their fingertips. He was not mistaken in doing this: God is truly found in the Scriptures.
Was their knowing the Holy Scripture enough? Scriptural writings gave the ‘wise men’ a head start for their researches. They were able to identify from the scriptures where the Infant King was to be born, but needed guidance to pinpoint the exact location. Scripture gives us guidance regarding our knowledge of God and the will of God; and from these, we should be able to cultivate and develop an intimate relationship with God in our everyday experience. The Magi combined their scriptural knowledge with their astronomical and astrological expertise so that, when the star rose again, they were able to find the place where Christ the Universal King was born. Their faith and their powers of reasoning were working together. Faith helps to guide our own daily life so that, in the midst of it, we can reason our way to discovering God’s will for us. Arise and let the light of faith guide your life (cf. Jn 12:46).
The opposer of the light: Herod wanted to destroy this new-born baby, the Holy Child that is the joy of the world and of heaven but Whom Herod perceived as a threat to his earthly kingdom. With weasel words, Herod instructed the Magi to report back to him when they found the Baby ‘to enable him to go and pay Him homage’ (v.8). We know the outcome of the Magi not going back to report to Herod: he ordered the blanket slaughter of the Holy Innocents in an effort to ensure the elimination of the new-born King. Similarly, it is possible that there could be one or more things in your life that extinguish the light of Christ in you, that snuff out the flame or cause it to flutter. Those things might be appealing to you, even supportive of your life: but beware, because their primary target is to get precise information about the light of Christ in you so that they can extinguish it. You need to be wise in order to be able to discern the spirits (1Jn 4:1). You need to be wise like the Magi to be able to know when not to act on certain information, to know when the things that have been guiding you for a while are deceiving you (Rom 12:2). You need to be wise to know when to apply the brakes, when to quit so that the light of Christ burns brightly and steadily in you. Arise and shine out the wisdom which the Holy Spirit has given you (Eph 1:17).
My gifts to Jesus: The gifts of the Magi were symbols of the status of the Child to Whom they came to do homage. Gold represents Christ’s Kingship, frankincense His Priesthood, and myrrh His anointing as Prophet. What can you and I offer Jesus today? I will give him my whole self so that He makes use of me as He wills to radiate His light in the world. I will give him my body as gold, my spirit as frankincense and my soul as myrrh. What will you offer Him?
God bless you. Amen.