Matthew 2:1-12, The Epiphany of the Lord
Epiphany. From the Greek word Epiphaneia – a manifestation, a revelation, a coming-into-view. A coming-into-view of what? Or, better, of whom? Of the God of mercies and unexpected interventions, of God Eternal making his entrance into time, into history, into our lives; breaking all barriers, reaching out far and wide to us sinful mortals, not only to the people of the covenant – to the Jews – but even to the Gentile world represented by the Magi, the wise men from distant eastern regions. In the Epiphany, God was being what He was and is and will ever be through all eternity – the God of saving surprises; extending his favors far beyond the boundaries of the Jewish people, reaching out to the Gentile world, to those whom Jews considered as outsiders, as people of lesser worth. Descended from their father Abraham, Jews felt they had a monopoly on God’s favors.
And yet, the Epiphany drives homes this doctrinal point: Salvation is for all! Obedient to the summons of a star – led by God’s illuminating grace – the Magi travelled the arduous distances and arrived in Bethlehem where Christ had just been born. With eyes of faith, they saw in the helpless infant the King of Kings to whom they offered their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. For the Magi, Bethlehem proved to be a turning point, a conversion, the start of a NEW life. Note how the Gospel narrative ends – an ending huge with meaning. An angel of the Lord telling them in a dream NOT to go back to Herod, but to return home BY ANOTHER WAY.
By another way. By a new route, i e no more return to old idolatries, no more to old priorities, no more to old values, no more to former attachments! No more to yesterday’s vanities. No more to the quest for contentment in the very things that could not give contentment!
The Magi had found the Maker of the heavens and the stars, the Lord of all lands and seas. In Bethlehem, the Magi were reborn. From Bethlehem, they stepped into the new year!
At the threshold of a new year, ours also to begin anew, ridding ourselves of encumbrances, making room for the “new” to gain entrance into our lives, fixing our gaze on loftier things for which we have been born. In St Paul’s formula, PUT WE ON THE NEW MAN – CHRIST, comporting ourselves as Christians, growing larger in thought, word and action; less fault-finding, less posturing, less self-promoting; readier to regard one another with respect, more sensitive to one another’s needs, more tolerant of one another’s faults, less cynical about motives, less eager to score points, and slower to condemn! Let self-indulgence yield to self-effacement; to open-handedness. All we are, all we have – all blessings, all belong to the Lord, given us for sharing with one another.
For their troubles en route to Bethlehem, for refusing to cooperate with Herod’s machinations towards the murder of the Christ Child, for trouble of going home “by another way”, was it easygoing now for the Magi? Maybe not! They were beginning a new life with its own new tests, trials and costs. But graced with a higher wisdom and fortified with new strength, these men of the East now threw in their lot with the God who had chosen birth in a crude manger that would lead to a cruel cross on Calvary which, in St Paul’s words, would be a “scandal to the Jews; to the Greeks, utter foolishness; but to people of faith, God’s power and salvation!” And yet, St Paul also says, “far better foolish with God’s foolishness than wise with the wisdom of this passing world.”