02. 01. 2011 Epiphany of the Lord
The story of the Epiphany which is only recounted in the Gospel of Matthew is most curious. Who are these Magi? And what is this star that guides them first to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem?
There are all sorts of interesting allusions here and many connections to be made. By Magi we understand that they were probably Zoroastrian astrologers from Persia. But while Christians were strongly warned elsewhere in the New Testament against dabbling in astrology these Magi are presented by Matthew as truly commendable.
Some suggest that the homage that they pay to Jesus is a kind of giving way by astrology and other magical theories to the truth of Christianity. Others say that this incident is to show that even the pagan world had some understanding of the importance of Christ’s role and had inklings of his birth.
Then there is the curiosity of the star. One theory suggests that it was a supernova; others are of the opinion that it was a comet or a conjunction of planets. Or is Matthew simply using a literary device to explain how these astrologers were guided to the stable at Bethlehem? A confessed feminist asked me why God gave the star to the wise men. I professed ignorance. She told me with glee, "God knows men are too proud to ask directions, so He gives you always only the stars to guide you."
I think that we have to look at all these things in the light of the title given to the feast. It is an Epiphany, a manifestation. God makes himself known to the world and to specific individuals.
Ironically the people who should have been most sensitive to the things of God are totally unaware of what is happening in their midst while these strangers from afar show a remarkable awareness of the great intervention of God that had occurred in Bethlehem.
God makes himself known; he leads and guides people on their journey through life. We believe that God continually draws all people to himself and often he does so in the most unobtrusive ways.
Recently I came upon a story that I would like to share with you. In this story the three wise men, Gaspar, Balthassar and Melchior, were three different ages. Gaspar was a young man, Balthassar a middle aged man and Melchior an elderly man. They found a cave where the Holy One was and entered to do him homage one at a time.
- Melchior the old man entered first. He found an old man like himself in the cave. They shared stories and spoke of memory and gratitude.
- Middle aged Balthassar entered next. He found a man his own age there. They spoke passionately about leadership and responsibility.
- Young Gaspar was the last to enter. He found a young prophet waiting for him. They spoke about reform and promise.
Afterward when the three kings spoke to each other about their encounter with the Christ, they were shocked at each other’s stories. So they got their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh together and all three went into the cave. They found a baby there, the infant Jesus only twelve days old.
There is also -in today's Gospel- the question of a different attitude toward Jesus Christ, the Messiah. We have first - the shepherds running with joy to recognize in the child the promised Messiah, we have the wise men searching the truth, searching for the new born Kings, ready to recognize their limits and to accept the words and prophesy of the scriptures, we have the priests and the scribes, who know exactly the prophecies about Messiah but are not at all interested, and finally we have the King Herod, who is afraid of new born Christ.
To which of these four categories do I belong?
There is a deep message here. Jesus reveals himself to all people, at all stages of their lives, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. Our pictures of Jesus are basically those as conceived by Western European artists. That’s OK, but Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew. If you were to go to Mexico, representations of Jesus would be that of a Mexican. Or an Asian in many places in the East. That is all acceptable, because Jesus has revealed himself of coming for all people, all places. In the Second reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul says that this is the great secret of the ages: that the Christ came not just for the Jews but to be one with all people, Gentiles or non-Jews alike. You are also included …
The only one condition is to be able to accept the TRUTH with open mind and honest heart.