Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6.
Epiphaneia means an act of appearing. Jesus appears to the non-Jews. At Christmas Jesus was revealed by angels to the shepherds who were Israelites. Angels were part of Jewish faith. Now Jesus appears to non-Jews, magi coming from the east guided by a star, because they were astrologers. Magi were mostly of the priestly caste in Babylon and Persia. They were also considered wise men because of their studies of the movements of the heavenly bodies. The number three was based on the number of the gifts. The Gospels do not indicate that they were kings. The star was mentioned by Balaam in Nm 24:17, “A star shall advance from Jacob and a staff (scepter) shall rise from Israel.” Earlier in Gen 49:10 Jacob prophesied, “The scepter shall never depart from Judah,” indicating a king. The location of Bethlehem as the birth place is given to us by Mic 5:1-3.
Let us now take a look at the contrasting parties involved in this story. The magi were considered wise because of their knowledge of the heavenly bodies accumulated by many generations of data collection concerning their movements and corresponding events on earth. However, these are all human wisdom, its authority stands on human observation. Herod and the people in Jerusalem possessed the accumulated prophecies received from Yahweh and the Torah given through Moses giving them solid wisdom of divine origin. With their human knowledge, the magi followed the Star and searched for something they learned only through human means. They made preparations for the journey, spending their hard earned finances, left their homes and spent days, weeks and months on their quest for the “new born king of the Jews.” Of what importance was he to them that they should sacrifice so much in search of him? Besides, the journey was uncertain; there could be setbacks along the way: sand storms, and/or ambush by bandits in the desert. Yet they took the risk and were even happy to follow the Star. Let me pause and ask myself; in my search for Jesus, have I sacrificed so much? Am I willing to sacrifice so much?
When they came near Jerusalem, the Star disappeared. Why? Jerusalem did not have clear eyes to see the Star of the Savior. Herod was not interested in the supernatural; he was very much attached to his earthly position and possession. When the magi told him of the “new born king” he felt threatened. Historical records tell us that Herod even killed some of his sons on suspicion that they were plotting to dethrone him. Pretending to find the truth about the Messiah, he called the wise men of Israel to know what the prophets said. Then he asked the magi to go and find this “new born king” and inform him, so he too could go and pay him homage. In reality he was calculating how he could find him and kill him. Herod and the Jews rejected the Messiah while the gentiles sought and accepted him. In my retreats, seminars and recollections, when the speakers touched a sensitive part of my sinful life, what were my feelings? Was I humble and contrite? Or was I angry, rebellious, calculating how to get even? And so Herod did not find his Savior and Salvation. He ended killing innocent babies, he turned into a murderer. That was Herod the Great. Later, his descendant Herod Agrippa, would murder John the Baptist who told him the truth of his standing with God. Denial of truth can lead us to greater sin, because only the truth can set us free.
Jerusalem remained in the state of darkness because its leader Herod refused to accept the “new born king.” As soon as the Magi left the city, they saw the Star again and their joy returned; they followed it until they found the Child Jesus with Mary his Mother. Their sacrifices to make the journey and the obstacles along the way vanished into the background because they found the object of their quest. Their reward was that they were able to pay him homage and offer him their gifts. In our quest for the Lord, finding him is itself our reward, feeling his nearness is our greatest security. Being able to serve him is our greatest joy. After sponsoring an MEW, we feel tired and exhausted, and yet we feel joy in our heart. After the prayer and worship and the program of our Foundation Day and the community Christmas Party, we feel tired and exhausted, but there is joy in our hearts because we felt the presence of God in our gathering as brothers and sisters.
Let us consider the gifts which were in themselves prophetic: the Gold because he is King; the Frankincense because he is Priest; and the Myrrh because he was to die for his people (myrrh was and is an important ingredient for embalming). In our giving of our treasure, we offer Jesus our gold. In our worship and life of prayer, we offer Jesus our frankincense. In our fasting and penance (denying the self and dying with Jesus), we offer him our myrrh. Let this feast of Epiphany encourage us to follow the Star that leads to Jesus and find Mary as well. Offering him our gifts is a special grace and privilege; let us never get tired of loving and serving the Lord.