The Epiphany of the Lord

First reading                       Isaiah 60:1-6

Responsorial Psalm          Psalm 71(72):1-2,7-8,10-13

Second reading                   Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6

Gospel                                   Matthew 2:1-12

The Christmas story, with all its strange and enchanting details, is one shrouded in mystery. It has it all – angels, dreams, stars, shepherds, wise men, the virgin birth, the manger, a violent king, the slaughter of the holy innocents, etc. Perhaps the most enigmatic of all, however, are the three wise men from the east who appear and then disappear, never to be seen again. Who were these “wise men”? Well, first of all, the Gospel doesn’t say anything about there being three of them. We’re told that there were three types of gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh – but not the number of wise men. And while many translations call them “wise men”, the original Greek text calls them Magi, which is more than just a wise person. A magos was someone, usually from Persia, who practiced sorcery or was privy to esoteric knowledge and arts such as astrology and alchemy. They were considered “wise” in the sense that they had access to this secret “wisdom”. In English, we derive the word “magic” and “magician” from the word magos. The point here is, these were pagans, who through a combination of their secret knowledge and biblical prophecy, came to find and adore God-with-us.

This is very important. Pagan sorcerers came to worship the one true God! Why is this important? Dear friends it’s important because the story of the Magi is the beginning of our salvation. Their story is our story. What do I mean? Our second reading today spells it out. St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians wrote, “it was by a revelation that I was given knowledge of the mystery. This mystery that has now been revealed through the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets was unknown to any men in past generations; it means that pagans now share in the same inheritance, that they are parts of the same body…” Did you hear that? The mystery that has been revealed by God to his apostles and prophets by the power of the Holy Spirit is that pagans can now share in the same inheritance as the chosen people and are made part of the same body! This is precisely what is unfolding in the Gospel today and is the key to understanding these Magi. Magi were people who sought to understand mysteries, and St Paul says here that a mystery has been revealed, namely, that the pagans have been made part of the body of Christ and are therefore able to access salvation. Dear friends, in the story of the Magi we see that mystery unfolding. This is why today is called the feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany means “to manifest” or literally to “bring into the light”. There is a double bringing into the light happening in our Gospel. First and foremost, God is revealed to us in the flesh. The identity of our Lord as God-with-us is brought into the light, so to speak, in the sense that he has manifested himself to us in an irreversible way. Second, by the self-revelation of our God in Jesus, we are brought into the light of his presence. By his taking on of human flesh, those who have faith in him and are baptised into his body are made one with him. We ourselves are brought into his light and are manifest as children of God. This beginning of our double epiphany is what we see taking place in the Magi.

But, brothers and sisters, there’s more. I mentioned that we are brought into his light and revealed as children of God through faith and baptism. But what does the living out of that faith and baptism look like? Well, once again, we see this in the Magi. In making the long journey to worship the child of Bethlehem, the Magi leave behind their false gods. We too must leave behind all of our idols and false gods. And the Gospel says that when they went into the house “they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage.” This translation doesn’t quite do justice to the Greek text which literally says they “fell down and worshipped him”. The term “worship” here denotes getting down on one’s knees and touching the forehead to the ground. This is a dramatic scene. These strangers from the east suddenly turn up and get down on the ground in front of Mary and the baby Jesus and begin to worship! 

What is more, “opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.” Imagine the sight of it! How Mary must have marvelled at what was happening. Then there is perhaps the most telling detail of all. The Magi “returned to their own country by a different way.” In these precious details the Magi offer us a pattern for walking in the light that God has brought us into. If we know the power and the depth of God’s love for us, it should bring us to our knees, so to speak. Our proper posture as Christians is to abandon our false gods and little idols and worship God, to genuinely adore and humble ourselves, knowing our smallness before the divine presence. We should not be slow to kneel before God. Like the Magi, we are invited to then open our treasure chests and offer him gifts, that is, to open the treasure chest of our heart to him, giving our very lives over to him each and every day. Finally, dear brothers and sisters, all of this demands that we go home by “another way”. In other words, our lives must change! We can never be the same again after an encounter with the living God-with-us.

Today we find ourselves already past the threshold of a new year. How, then, are you going to respond to the incarnation of God’s love for us in the coming year? Are we willing to follow the example and invitation of the Magi by walking in the light that is revealed today? Or will we go back the same way, via king Herod, to what is comfortable and stagnant?


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