Epiphany 6th Jan 2021
Of the Gospel writers it is only Matthew who tells the story of the visit of the Magi or Wise Men and we note that they came “from the rising of the Sun”, in other words from the east. Magi were those studied the heavens for signs and inspiration and we are told that they followed a particularly bright star that led them to Judah where a “king of the Jews” had been born.
All sorts of tales and traditions have grown up around the Magi most notably that they were three kings. I remember singing a little ditty as a child of about six or seven…..”We three kings of Orient are, one on a bicycle, one in a car, one on a scooter blowing his hooter following yonder star” and getting a slap on the legs for it by the class teacher! There was, too, the idea that one of them was white, one black and one yellowish thus representing the three main colour groups of humanity. In our minds they were very much kings rather than just Wise Men. There is even a tradition that their mortal remains are buried in Cologne Cathedral and that they are called Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar but there is none of that in St. Matthew`s Gospel. Nevertheless the Wise Men pursued their purpose of finding this “king of the Jews” and, not unnaturally, called in on the local ruler, the notorious King Herod, to enquire where this child would be born. Herod, of course, whilst being polite to the Wise Men, went deeply into panic mode fearing that his own throne might be usurped and immediately enquired of his advisers and religious leaders of where the Child was to be born. We know from the Gospel reading we`ve just heard what happened. After searching diligently and following the Star they came to Bethlehem and worshipped the New-born King having heard from Herod`s advisers that this was the place prophesied – the City of David.
In a way it was strange that it should have been Matthew who related the saga for he was a Jew and wrote his Gospel for Jews but it is he who makes plain this story, this epiphany – the word means manifestation or revelation, that shows how the Christ-child is the “One who is to come” not just for God`s First-chosen People – the Jews but for all humanity. It is highly improbable that the Wise Men travelled alone and, more likely, that they were part of a caravan of folk travelling together for mutual support and protection. The importance of the saga lies in the gifts that the Wise Men brought for the Holy Child:
Gold signifying his eternal kingship – not of this world but of Heaven Frankincense – commonly used in worship in many religions and signifying his divinity and the He is the Eternal High Priest and Myrrh – one of the items used by undertakers in preparing bodies for burial and the sign that He was to die as the self-offered Eternal Sacrifice who offers salvation to all humanity.
The tragic irony in St. Matthew`s story is that it tells of pilgrim pagans who journey very far from home because they believed that God was doing something new (indeed he came into the world in the Person of His Son) but the leaders of the Chosen People read their scriptures but no longer expected God to reveal anything new. The religious leaders of Jesus` day had worked out an uneasy but relatively peaceful compromise with the occupying power of the Roman Empire which was relatively peaceful for Rome allowed a certain degree of freedom to the Jewish people to practice their religion – just as long as they didn`t rock the boat! In reality they were somewhere between a state of accommodation and complicity in order to continue a relatively settled existence.
The Magi, by contrast, had their dreams awakened enough to shake them out of their condition, in spite of the fact that they would hardly have known anything of the promises of Abraham or a sense of the God of Israel, but, clearly, they believed that there was more to life than what they already knew. Without knowing details, they had become aware of the God who reveals Himself to those who truly seek Him.
Recently, I read Pope Francis`s paper Fratelli Tutti or “All Brothers and Sisters” which invites us to learn from the experiences of COVID-19 to a greater awareness of the intimate connectedness of all people throughout this Earth and he calls on us to establish effective networks of international relations of solidarity.
Like the Magi, we may not know what we are looking for, except that as Christians we know we are looking for Salvation which only comes through Christ our Saviour, but if we set our sights high enough God will not hesitate to lead us into new epiphanies, new revelations, where we will meet God among us in unexpected ways as we ponder His Word, receive Him in this Blessed Sacrament of Christ`s Body and Blood and deepen our relationship with Him in our prayer and worship. Be sure God is among us and continually comes among us in unexpected and wildly rich ways.