Matthew 2:1-12, Solemnity of the Epiphany
Finding out that the three kings were neither three nor royalty was not quite as traumatic as that other life-changing discovery about Santa Claus. But to whomever thought of coming up with the three kings–what were you thinking?
For years, we staged Nativity plays that religiously featured them with their precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Why, they even had names that not only sounded good together, but also were exotic enough to prove that they had indeed journeyed from faraway lands.
It was only years later that I learned the truth about Melchor, Gaspar, and Balthazar. When I finally sat up and paid attention, I realized–not without some desolation–that the one single biblical account in Matthew only mentions an unnumbered party of unnamed wise men who had traveled from the east pursuing that star. They could have been an entire convoy of camel-riding tourists who crossed the deserts to get a selfie with the newborn celebrity.
To complicate matters, not only were these first visitors not kings, but also they were led not to that beloved stable, but to some unidentified house, where again, contrary to the traditional narrative, only Mary–and not Joseph or the shepherds–is mentioned as present.
So at the end of the day, if we stick to the biblical essentials of the Epiphany, we end up not with three kings bowing before an infant king, but with one wide-eyed Jewish baby surrounded by a coterie of foreigners. Can such a stripped-down, unromantic version of the Epiphany still mean something for us today?
The answer–thankfully–is a resounding “Yes.” Remember, we still have the star of Bethlehem, and we still have one king in the story–the baby Jesus. He is the very reason the wise men pursued that star–in order to find the so-called “King of the Jews”
Now, the significant question to me is: Why would a Jew–much less, a king–surround himself with foreigners? After all, foreigners in those days were regarded by Jews as no more than second-class citizens since they were excluded from God’s Chosen People. Shouldn’t a king reserve himself for more exclusive and distinguished company?
And that, I think, is where we can find the heart of the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. The promised Messiah has arrived not only for the holy ones of Israel; as the Lord himself proclaims later, he has also come to call the sinners, not just the righteous. But he is also here not only for the Jews, but for the entire world. Salvation is promised for all. And Jesus has won it for all.
If Christmas–and in fact, Christianity–is about anything, it is about breaking down fences. The Incarnation–God taking flesh–is all about God breaking down the fence dividing the divine and the human. The Redemption–Christ crucified on the cross–is about God removing the barrier between the holy and the sinners. The Lord has never been about being exclusive, as he has repeatedly pointed out to the Pharisees, but about opening his arms as wide as possible to welcome all who are willing to approach him.
In other words, God does not have an exclusive mindset. And neither should we. So on this feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, let’s examine our lives and ourselves, look for those walls that we build to keep ourselves separate from other people. In which areas of our lives do we still insist on being exclusive?
May this be our epiphany today: that our lives as Christians entail precisely breaking down barriers wherever we find them. This is the star offered to us for our guidance. And the good news is, it doesn’t take a king or a wise man to follow that star.