Year B: Epiphany of The Lord
The Visit of the Magi
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star* at its rising and have come to do him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”
After their audience with the king, they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
- Have you ever experienced something you would describe as a religious epiphany, a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way? Explain.
- The wise men were on a journey of searching to find the light, to see the truth, to see love and goodness. In what ways might you challenge yourself to be more “spiritually wise” in this coming year? Can you describe what would this look like?
- Epiphany is about God revealing God’s self to us in Jesus. In what ways are you a light revealing Jesus- “God with us” to others? Is being Christ’s light in the world a conscious part of your experience? (reflect on Fruits of the Spirit…)
- Where are you discovering God incarnate in unlikely places and unlikely people?
Margaret Nutting Ralph
Today’s Gospel is the wonderful story of the magi coming to pay homage to the Christ child. We have probably all acted out this story either as children in costume or by assembling a crib set. It is very likely that in all of our enactments the magi arrived at the manger. Combination of images that does not appear in the Gospels. The magi appear only in Matthew; the manger only in Luke.
The fact that Mathew and Luke both tell stories, of Jesus’ birth, but that their stories differ in details, is evidence that both Matthew and Luke were using the infancy-narrative literary form. (We discussed infancy narratives briefly in the Gospel commentary on the feast of the Holy Family.) Infancy narratives teach not what was known about child at the time of the child’s birth but what was known after the person became great.
In order to teach his post-resurrection message about Jesus, Matthew winds Old Testament images around his account of New Testament events. Alluding to Old Testament passages in this way was a teaching technique of the time called midrash. We will better understand Matthew’s teaching if we are familiar with the Old Testament passages to which he refers.
When the magi arrive at Herod’s palace they say? “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” This is an allusion to Numbers 24:15-17a.
The utterance of Balaam, son of Beor,
the utterance of the man whose eye is true,
The utterance of one who hears what God says
and knows what the Most High knows,
Of one who sees what the Almighty sees.
enraptured and with eyes unveiled.
I see him, though not now;
I behold him, though not near:
A star shall advance from Jacob,
and a staff shall rise from Israel….
In the Book of Numbers these words appear on Balaam’s lips. This scene takes place while the Israelites are camped on the plains of Moab across the Jordan from Jericho. They have not yet crossed the Jordan to claim the promised land. The king of Moab, Balak, is afraid that the Israelites will conquer his people. He asks Balaam to curse the Israelites so that they will no longer be a threat. Balaam explains that he cannot say anything that God would not have him say. When Balaam speaks, he blesses the Israelites rather than curses them.
When Balaam says, “A star shall advance from Jacob, / and a staff shall rise from Israel,” he is speaking of King David, who did later conquer the holy land. The setting of this scene precedes David, but the person telling the story lived after David. The story in Numbers is teaching that David’s reign was ordained by God. Matthew uses Balaam’s words to teach not about David, but about Jesus.
In Matthew’s story, when Herod assembles the chief priests and scribes to ask where the Christ was to be born they say,
“In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet:
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
This passage, largely based on Micah 5:1, is also a reference to King David. Micah was a prophet to the southern kingdom in the eighth century B.C. Micah is reminding the people that King David, who was the greatest king they ever had, was from Bethlehem. Bethlehem is the source of the Davidic dynasty to whom God has promised fidelity. Micah is offering the people hope that future kings will also come from the Davidic line and will be faithful to God.
Still a third Old Testament passage that Matthew uses in his story appears as our Old Testament reading: Isaiah 60: 1-6
Fr. Michael Marsh
“Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
Every one of us comes here today bearing gifts. That is one of the truth’s about the Epiphany. It is true not only on this day but every day. Many of us, however, have never been told this. If we have been told, we frequently don’t believe it. Sometimes we even deny it. “It might be true for someone else,” we tell ourselves, “but not for me.”
Too often we separate ourselves from the beauty, power, and grace of the Epiphany and settle for a flash of insight. We work to “get it,” waiting and hoping that one day the light will come on. We have been convinced that the “aha” moment is our epiphany. That, however, is a diminishment and impoverishment of the Epiphany. It is not the gospel story we just heard, and it is not the Epiphany we celebrate today.
The Epiphany we celebrate today is not about “getting it.” It is about what we have already been given. The Epiphany is the manifestation, the revealing, the showing and making known that divine life and presence fill all humanity and creation. It is most fully and profoundly revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. It is not, however, limited to him. He is the archetype of who we can become and the way of our becoming.
The manifestation of God in and through Christ is the aperture through which we see the truth about our lives. Whether we know it, understand it, or believe it divinity, God’s life, is the treasure and gift we each carry. Every one of us is a magi. We are carriers of the treasure. We have been entrusted with divine gifts. We are, as a friend of mine likes to say, “epiphanal beings.” That is true for you, me, and every other person, even Herod.
The Epiphany is not limited to a specific time, place, or a particular people. It is for all people, in all places, at all times. There is no one who does not carry this treasure. The difference is not that some carry the treasure and others do not. The difference is between those who know and trust themselves to be carriers of the treasure and those who are blind to and ignorant of the treasure within them.
That is what distinguishes the wise men from Herod. The Herods of this world, those who do not know the treasure they carry, the treasure they are, remain closed and isolated. They will always live in fear, demand answers, seek absolutes, make judgments, establish a cult of personality, wield individual power, and relate through violence. The wise man or woman, the one who knows himself or herself to be a bearer of gifts, however, is willing to open his or her treasure chest and offer those gifts. They hold nothing in reserve, offering all that they are and all that they have.
Every day we have the opportunity to bring and offer our gifts to the world and in so doing we pay homage to the child. We reveal and make the child known to the world. Our gold, frankincense, and myrrh are offered in a thousand different ways.
Every time we offer our gratitude and prayers of thanksgiving we are pointing to the presence and work of God in our lives. Whenever we spend time feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, or caring for those in need we are revealing God’s compassion and concern for his people. Whenever we freely and without need of recognition give our money to care for and help another we are demonstrating God’s generosity. Our presence at the bedside of one who is sick or dying reveals God with us, Emmanuel. Whenever we offer forgiveness rather than retribution and mercy rather than condemnation we demonstrate God’s grace. The moments we spend in silence, solitude, and stillness manifest the mystery of God. The intimacy we share with another is a reflection of God’s self-giving love. Every time we offer our treasure we are mirroring God’s offering of his treasure.
The only reason we can ever offer our treasure is because God first offered his. It happened that night when God opened the treasure chest of his house to reveal the child with his mother Mary. In response, the magi opened their treasure chests and offered gifts.
God has never ceased opening the treasure chest of his life and offering gifts. Each one of us continues to carry the treasure of God’s life. That is the truth and good news of Epiphany. Every gift we offer from that treasure reveals God’s life and presence. The Epiphany of God calls forth our own epiphany. Epiphany meets epiphany, treasure meets treasure, and God’s life and presence fill this world and our lives. It’s not just something we do, it’s who we are. Our lives become epiphanies, manifestations, of Christ to the world.