Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3,5-6; Matt 2:1-12
JESUS IS OUR LIGHT AND OUR KING
Today, the Church celebrates the feast of the Epiphany. In the eyes of the commercial
world, the celebration of the feast of Christmas is simply over, given that work and
schools have resumed. But this is not the case with the church. The Christmas season
continues today with the celebration of the feast of Epiphany: the manifestation of
Jesus to the pagan world. Today, Jesus reveals himself to non-believers. This is the
second phase of the Christmas season. Next Sunday, we shall be celebrating the feast
of the Baptism of the Lord. This will be the conclusion of the Christmas season.
1. WHAT ARE WE CELEBRATING AT EPIPHANY?
At Christmas, we celebrate the mystery of the Word-made-flesh, Jesus Christ who is
TRUE GOD AND TRUE MAN. On New Year’s Day, we celebrate the mystery of
Jesus, born of Mary, yet he is the SON OF GOD. The Jesus, is truly the SON OF GOD
AND SON OF MARY. Today, on the Epiphany of the Lord, we celebrate the truth that
this Jesus is THE KING AND THE LIGHT TO ALL NATIONS, not only to the
people of Israel. Here, we recall the prophesy of Simeon about the child Jesus: “Lord,
not let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen
your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for
revelation to the Gentiles” (Lk 2:29-32) Of Him, the prophet Isaiah says in the 1st
reading of today: “Above you the Lord now rises and above you his glory appears.
The nations come to your light and kings to your dawning brightness.” (Is 60:2-3)
The word Epiphany, from its Greek origin means manifestation or appearance. It is
derived from a verb meaning “to appear”. In the book of 2 Maccabees, the word is
used of a manifestation of the God of Israel (2 Maccabees 15:27). In the New
Testament the word is used in 2 Timothy 1:10 to refer either to the birth of Christ or
to his appearance after his resurrection. It is also used five times to refer to the
Second Coming of Christ.
As we can see in the gospel reading above, the visit of the magi takes center stage in
today’s liturgy of the word. In our reflection of today, we shall, therefore, concentrate
on this aspect of the text. This gospel text is a prophetic narrative that anticipates the
future rejection of Jesus by Israel and his acceptance by the Gentiles, people
considered to be outside the nation of Israel.
2. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE MAGI
In oriental literature, a magus is “an oriental priest learned in the esoteric arts
including astrology and the interpretation of dreams.” In view of his in-depth
knowledge in astrology and dream interpretation he was also considered to be a “wise
man”. As we can see in Matthew 2:1, the astrological aspect of the magi is highlighted.
“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the
East, and have come to worship him.” (Mt 1:2)
In Old Testament times the idea of the Jews as God’s Chosen people was interpreted
in a way that involved second-class status, and sometimes even rejection of all the other
peoples. The concept of divine election fundamentally differentiated the Jew from the
Gentile. The Jews believed that it was quite impossible to be holy outside Judaism. As
a Jew the individual was a member of the “holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). The magi were
fundamentally Gentiles. As Gentiles, they belonged to the pagan world and so they
were outside the covenant society. They were seen as pariah and strangers to the Jewish
covenant. To remain outside Judaism, as was the case with these magi who came to
visit Jesus, was to remain outside the fountain of holiness.
This is the central point addressed in the gospel of today. Accordingly, the visit of the
magi is the visit of the non-holy to the Holy. This feast shows that election by God
was not just a privilege for the Jews but a hope for all. God broke down this barrier and
manifested himself to the pagan world because salvation is also for them. The doors
were also opened for them to visit the Messiah of the world. The epiphany replicates
the situation at incarnation where there was an encounter between the Holy and
3. A CALL TO AN OPENNESS TO OTHERS
We are also called to be open to others, especially the vulnerable and fallen in our
society. Pope Francis recently said: A Church which “goes forth” is a Church whose
doors are open. Going out to others in order to reach the fringes of humanity does
not mean rushing out aimlessly into the world. Often it is better simply to slow down,
to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from
one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way.
At times we have to be like the father of the prodigal son, who always keeps his door
open so that when the son returns, he can readily pass through it (Evangelii Gaudium
This is what Jesus did today in the narrative of the magi. He opened his doors so that
they could come in. Hence, Jesus also believed that his mission was not restricted to
the Jewish nation alone. This was why he ordered his disciples to “make disciples of
all nations” (Mat 28:19). And you cannot fulfill the mandate of Jesus with closed
doors, or a separatist attitude. As we can see, the biblical theological implication of the
magi’s visit is very profound. They are comparable to the atheists of whom Pope
Francis said, “There are also good atheists.”
The feast of the Epiphany has parallels with the incarnation, at Christmas. As we saw
in our commentary on Christmas day, the Most Perfect God condescended to take up
an imperfect human nature. Similarly, today, this same Most Perfect God chose to
manifest himself to the unbelieving pagan world. Each time, this contact is with an
imperfect situation. Both the incarnation and the Epiphany remind us that though we
have a Perfect God, we do not have a Perfectionist God, who insists on our being
perfect before he could encounter us. Instead, he is a “ritual detergent” that cleanses
every dirty contact. In the incarnation and in the Epiphany, God encounters us as
we are. He deals with His children as they are and not as we would have wanted them
to be; this permeates all levels of relationships.
4. WHAT DO WE LEARN FROM THE MAGI?
So far, with God’s initiative to manifest himself to us! What is our own response? The
magi recognized Jesus as the true Star of Christmas. They came to Him and worshipped
him. Since this is also our goal, we can learn some things from them:
a) They were paying attention: Ironically, the Jews who had for many years
announced that they were awaiting the Messiah, were oblivious to His coming. They,
“God’s chosen People” missed the signs. Their religious experts, the theologians, and
the devout missed it. These “foreigners” however, saw, understood and responded. We
too can be so wrapped up in the trappings of the season that we miss the Christ-child.
We can be so familiar with the events and traditions of Christmas that we never really
give time to think about the events in Bethlehem. If we look around attentively, we will
realize how desperately our world needs the message Jesus brings. We will realize how
much we personally need a Savior, companion and friend. The message of Christmas
is not just a nice story. It is a message and an event we need to pay attention to.
b) They were active rather than passive: When the magi observed the star, they did
not sit down and write a book about their experience. They packed up and headed off
to find this newborn King so that they might honor and worship Him. When they
reached Israel they inquired about where the Messiah was to be born. When they
received an answer they continued until they arrived at Bethlehem where they
worshipped and presented their gifts. They were not content to have information. They
insisted on having a personal encounter with this King. They didn’t wait passively.
They actively sought for the King. In the same way, we cannot simply wait for the
Christ. We need to bring ourselves to him.
c) They resisted the inevitable distractions: The Magi certainly had many
distractions. They had the distraction of a long and arduous journey. Imagine how
many times they might have thought about turning back. Think of how often they
wondered if it was going to be “worth it”. But they kept going. Satan is certainly a
common companion of anyone who would like see Jesus. The Devil’s goal is to distract
you and turn you from your pursuit of Christ. Hold firm!
5. WHAT THE MAGI DID WHEN THEY FINALLY FOUND JESUS
When they found the Christ-child, they had a lot to do:
a) They rejoiced when they again saw the star leading them to Jesus (Mtt 2:10).
They knew they were on the right course. When they saw Jesus, and came into His
presence they knew they had found the one they had been looking for all their lives.
They discovered joy. When you read the story of the Shepherds you see the same thing.
They were filled with joy after seeing Christ. The same can be for us. Jesus brings the
forgiveness we thought was not possible. He is the one who gives the hope you thought
didn’t exist. He is the one who fills the empty and lonely heart. He is the one who
affirms the value of those who think they are worthless. He is the one who brings life
beyond the grave. His arms are open. He invites you to come to Him. And if you do,
you too will find the one you’ve been looking for all your life.
b) They worshipped. (Mtt 2:11) This does not mean they sang a couple of hymns.
Neither does it mean they sang a chorus over and over again. It means they quietly
honored the Christ-child. They opened their hearts to Him. They presented Him gifts
and they also presented themselves. Worship is acknowledging Him as someone
unique, special, powerful.
c) They went home a different way. (Mtt 2:12) The Magi returned to their home by
a different route. If you remember the story, they were supposed to return and make a
report to Herod. But after meeting Jesus the angel informed them of Herod’s desire to
kill this baby. They changed their course. People who have met Jesus also change their
course. They do so, not because they are required to do so. They do so because for the
first time in their lives, the way has become clear. They know who to trust. They are
no longer afraid of a commitment to Christ.
Jesus is our LIGHT and our KING. Come, let us adore him!
Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3,5-6; Matt 2:1-12