Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3a; 5-6; Mt 2:1-12
Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
Think fast – How many wise men came to visit Jesus when he was born?
If you said three, you are in synch with Catholic tradition, but not with the story itself. Matthew simply says that “magi of the East arrived in Jerusalem”. “Magi” is the plural form of “magicians”, so we have to picture more than one. (“Magician” is a term that has greatly changed its’ meaning from ancient times to today. While we tend to think of children’s birthday parties and a man in a cheesy tuxedo pulling a rabbit out of a hat, the magi of the ancient world were held in high esteem by kings and other powerful people who believed they had the ability to read the will of the gods as it was written in the stars.) There is good reason to believe, however, that Matthew had in mind much more than three travellers.
The reason: More than any of the other gospel writers, Matthew goes out of his way to explicitly demonstrate the connection between Jesus and the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. One such prophesy can be found in this Sunday’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah. Notice the words of the prophesy towards the end of the passage: “Caravans of camels shall fill you (Jerusalem), dromediaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense.”
Take a moment to imagine the size of this procession. All of this wealth pouring into Jerusalem to celebrate the coming of the Messiah. Matthew’s conception of the birth of Jesus is not a story of a quiet, simple,peaceful birth on a still night known only to the holy family and a few shepherds as it is in Luke. In Matthew, a king has arrived in glory and splendor. Herod, and “all of Jerusalem with him” is terrified.
There is a tendency for the Catholic imagination to merge together all of the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus from Matthew and Luke into one seamless account. There is a good reason for this – the creation of the Christmas creche attributed to St. Francis of Assisi as a means of encouraging the faithful to meditate upon the Christmas mysteries. What tends to get lost when we do this, however, is the power and magnificence of Matthew’s account. Here is a savior who terrifies the Powers That Be from the first moment of his arrival and puts them on notice that the Kingdom of God has arrived. All of those women and men who follow this King of Kings have nothing to fear from the powers of this world who seek to rob and pillage the earth and all those upon it for their own selfish and greedy ends.
As we enter into this new year, let us allow the risen Christ to strengthen our determination to oppose by the power of peace and love all of those who seek to achieve their ambitions for worldly power through violence and coercion.
Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)
(To purchase book-length versions of my reflections, go to http://www.twentythirdpublications.com or to http://www.amazon.com or http://www.barnesandnoble.com)