Sometimes it is called The Three Kings or the Visit of the Magi. This feast is familiar to us. It conjures up colorful pictures of a journey, a search, with only a star as a guide. It is placed in the liturgical cycle to deepen and broaden an understanding of incarnation. The chosen Scripture texts are inspirational as they open us up to the needs of the world, and the wisdom of nature.
The accompanying photo connects the birth of Jesus (the crib scene), with his roots in the Jewish prophetic tradition. The Word and presence of God in the person of a vulnerable baby; the Word of God reverenced, recorded, in a long tradition of longing and hope in the scroll.
Today’s feast points us toward the Gentile world, to which we, as Christians belong. The chosen Scripture texts are very beautiful. Third Isaiah speaks of dawn, pushing back darkness; the creation of a shining brightness leading people from far places. They bear gifts of homage to the God of Israel in Jerusalem. There they will lay gold and frankincense for the “Lord’s praise they shall proclaim.” (v6).
Psalm 72, situated at the end of Book 2, gives insights into the role of the King, or, in our modern context, the role and responsibilities of leadership. Some translations emphasize the direct link between worldly success and attention to the most vulnerable in society. “If” the king saves the life blood of the needy it is a fulfillment of the covenant relationship. Power is to be achieved not by grasping for the most, but by caring for the least… How much is this attitude of self-emptying governance, of social justice needed in today’s world? It is a challenging corrective to the all-pervading market economy.
Ephesians moves us into the Christian belief in Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. Paul speaks of his suffering, of imprisonment borne for the sake of the message. The Good News is that the Gentiles have been invited into the covenant relationship; they, too, are partners in the promises through and in Christ. In Pauline language, it is a “mystery” that has been revealed through the Spirit. Revelation is ongoing.
The Gospel for today is from Matthew- the only one that mentions these 3 magi/astrologers/travelers. The account of their journey and arrival is midrash/story-telling, a Jewish method to delve, use imagination, and discover a deeper message. I like this image because the most prominent are the figures and the stars. No baby is yet in view. One star is shining more brightly than many others. The picture seems symbolic of human life. There are choices to be made, directions to be taken, stars to be refused, and choices. A bright star in the Ancient East was the sign of a significant birth; we are being tutored to pay attention to the story. These 3 set out not knowing where their destination was to end. They showed trust, perseverance, and humility.
Conversely, in the text, King Herod is presented as a power-hungry and ignorant leader; more intrigue and violence are corroborated by historical records. Herod, we are told, was “troubled” at the news of the birth and needed to check messianic promises. He, as a Jew, should have known the tradition about Bethlehem and the strong hope that a Davidic Messiah would come from there. He pretends to be interested in traveling to Bethlehem himself, and requests further news from them at their return.
The 3, following the wisdom of their dream, decide to return to their homes by a different route, avoiding Herod. Dreams are significant in the biblical tradition and their insights are considered valuable. So too, with the development of psychology, we have come to realize their importance in our own lives.
Names too, are always significant in Scripture, and the name given to the newborn baby was “King of the Jews.” In Herod’s eyes, there could not be more than one King in the region, so it presented a great threat to him. This title is repeated at Jesus’ death; the lesson is that birth and death cannot be separated. Myrrh, one of the gifts presented to the child, together with gold and frankincense, can signify anointing. Maybe, as followers, we are being reminded of how Jesus died which opens us to the full message of his time on earth.
May the revelation of this feast continue to grow and lead us forward in surprising ways as we journey into another year of life.
Gospel reflection of Sr. Anne-Marie Brittain, NDS for the Feast of the Epiphany Isaiah 60: 1-6, Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13, Ephesian: 3 2-3a, 5-6, Matthew 2: 1-12