Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Epiphany: Matthew 2:1-12

Christ revealed to the nations

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "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." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

'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.' "

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then 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." When 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. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On 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. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Comments: Today is Epiphany. This was the second most important feast of the Church before Christmas became more popular in the Middle Ages. In fact, December 25th was not celebrated until the 4th century. It was Epiphany that was the earliest date for the celebration of the Incarnation of God. Today among most of the Orthodox churches January 6th is still the date that the manifestation of God as human is celebrated. Rather than emphasizing the birth of Jesus, Epiphany puts an emphasis on the Baptism of Jesus and the start of his ministry.

In the West we tend to put emphasis on the arrival of the Three Kings or Magi. In Mediterranean countries and Latin America, this is when children receive their gifts. The gifts of the Magi were gold, frankincense and myrrh. Traditionally these gifts symbolized, kingship, priesthood and victory over the grave.

The Magi were of the priestly tribe or class of Zoroastrians, a monotheistic religion that believed in resurrection that came from the area now encompassed by Iran. The Magi were schooled in astrology and wisdom.

I am taken by the Magi’s unwillingness to return to Herod. They were people who understood the difference between the power of Herod and the truth of the Christ. They came from their country searching for the truth and found it not in Herod’s castle but in a humble stall.

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