Greetings to you on this day of the Epiphany of our Lord!
The word Epiphany means “showing forth,” and it names the day that the church tells Matthew’s story of the magi who travel from foreign lands to follow the light of the star and thus “see” Jesus as Christ. As we celebrate the Epiphany as the official last day of the Christmas season, we can look to our Gospel in the second chapter of Matthew to reflect upon the visit of the Magi to the holy family and the threat perceived by Herod:
1In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ”
7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
The celebration of Epiphany (which means in Greek the manifestation of God) on January 6 was important in the Eastern church from the fourth century and was variously connected with the stories of Jesus’ birth, the visit of the magi, and Jesus’ baptism. In some places it was a primary occasion for baptisms. In some cultures, Epiphany, “Three Kings Day,” is the date of gift-giving. According to the three-year lectionary, Epiphany concludes attention to the infancy narratives with the story of the visit of the magi to the young Jesus, who is now residing in a house. The child Jesus is lauded as a king who is already showing himself forth to the nations.
The feast of Epiphany concludes the Christmas season with a celebration of God’s glory revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that God’s promise shines bright in the night as magi follow a star to honor a new king. Strangers from a faraway land, they welcome the long-awaited messiah of Israel..
The wise ones coming from the east were likely astrologers, reading the stars to predict the future. Their very occupation made them sinners. Being from the east they are not likely to be Jewish either, and thus are doubly suspect. Yet they are led to Bethlehem by the grace of God. In the eyes of many they might be wrong — but in the eyes of God they are absolutely right. The magi gave gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and gold to the child Jesus. Surely, the holy family was comforted by the magi’s visit. Their kneeling presence serves as a reminder to us even in these days, that Jesus did not just come for some people, he came for all people. Grace upon grace to us all!
We also hear from our Gospel that King Herod hears about a baby being born who was called the Messiah, and he is frightened. He is the king. He has the power of order executions. He has the power to build massive fortresses and palaces, in the most impossible of places. Yet he is afraid of a newborn infant. For all his power and authority, Herod is a weak and fragile ruler. Herod is also very human. How easy it can be to perceive threats where they do not exist.
Just like the light of the star that guided the magi to Jesus, the light of Christ reveals who we are — children of God who are claimed and washed in the waters of baptism. We are sent out to be beacons of the light of Christ, sharing the good news of God’s love to all people. On this day of Epiphany, we remember that Christ is present not only for the ancient magi, but also for each one of us now, a brilliant light in our darkness.
Dear siblings, may you have a blessed Epiphany and may you be filled with the love and light of Christ, today and always!