January 5, 2020
(Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12)
The story of the Epiphany or the visitation of the Magi, is told only in Matthew. But like many other elements of the Nativity story, we’ve likely combined this in our mind with Luke’s story as well. So, it’s helpful to read this in the context of Matthew’s Gospel for he makes pertinent theological points. It is easy to read into the story, however, imagining that three kings bring the infant Jesus presents. But in reality, the number of Magi is not given. We typically imagine three because of the number of gifts they brought. Also, the three are thought of as “kings,” even though that word doesn’t appear either. Their identification as kings in later Christian writings is probably linked to Psalm 72:11, "May all kings fall down before him."
Their names are not found in Scripture either, although according to Western Church tradition, Balthasar is often represented as a king of Arabia, Melchior as a king of Persia, and Caspar (or Gaspar) as a king of India. These names apparently derive from a Greek manuscript probably composed in Alexandria around 500. Matthew’s choice of calling them “magi” would have been a class of Zoroastrian priests from Persia (modern day Iran). Magi is a Persian word, not a Greek word. Persian word used in a Greek written Gospel.
And though we likely imagine the infant Jesus, he is called a “child” in this passage which would imply he was older than an infant. Herod apparently had determined that the Magi had seen the star two years earlier. Consequently, Herod murdered all children from two years of age and under. This would imply that Jesus was about two years of age when the magi visited Him.
On the feast of the Nativity we read that Jesus was laid in a manger. The Greek word for “manger” is phatne which means “a box or crib where animals feed.” Consequently, we know that Jesus was born either in a cave or on the bottom floor of a building since it was the custom in those days to keep animals on the bottom floor at night when the temperature was cold. The house may have been built in front of a cave. This was common in Bethlehem.
Verse 11 states that Jesus was living in a “house.” This seems to reveal that Jesus’ parents had moved to a house. His parents had moved from the location of the manger to this house.
The gifts themselves represent royalty, and the Magi represent Gentiles. This tells us that the Gentiles come and worship Jesus, prefiguring the conclusion of the Gospel, when the risen Lord will give the commandment to go out to all nations (Gentiles) teaching them and baptizing them.
The story gives us many points to consider. As mentioned, one might be the fact that Gentiles (considered the “others”) come to worship Jesus. Herod needs to ask his advisers about the prophecy when those from Persia (Gentiles) are seeking out the child on their own. We, too, might be open to the others, those who come to the truth and to the person of Jesus on their own accord or by following their own stars. We know that by the end of the Gospel, this is Jesus’ intention too, that his teachings are not restricted to a few, but open to all. This is the same Gospel that will tell us that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. Instead, entry is only for those who do the will of the Father. And the will of the Father is that we act mercifully, much like the Magi of the Gospel today, and, of course as we learn later in Jesus’ life, by living in the radical love of Jesus.
The Magi in Today’s Gospel represent all those who are not part of the “in” crowd. These foreigners who do not know Jesus come to worship him before anyone else. They recognize in the signs of nature that something significant has happened, and they seek it out. Those who should know their own Scriptures missed something that Zoroastrian priests perceived.
The Magi undertake an extraordinary journey. Their two-year sojourn comes to its conclusion in Bethlehem, where they find the toddler Jesus with his mother. What was it about this child that led them to offer him their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and to prostrate themselves in worship? As the first Gentile disciples of Christ, the Magi model radical trust in the God of creation who reveals his son to them through the light of a star.
In a way, the journey of the Magi is foretold in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah where the people of Israel are told, “Nations shall walk by your light.” Jesus, the light of the world, is revealed by the brightness of a star that leads foreigners to the land of Israel and to the Savior born there. In seeking to unite all people to himself, Jesus unifies those who were once separate. St. Paul proclaims in his letter to the Ephesians, “The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise of Christ Jesus through the Gospel.”
In Christianity we are called to renounce the idea that the world is divided into “us” and “them.” All people are invited to walk in the light of the star of Bethlehem. While our journeys of faith might take us along different routes, the same God of creation, manifested to us in his Son, Jesus Christ, awaits us with arms stretched wide to gather the entire world to himself.
On this feast of Epiphany, we look to Jesus particularly as the manifestation and revelation of the living God. When we read the Gospel closely, we are given many details about this child who is sought by the Magi. The prophets proclaim that he will be both a ruler and a shepherd for the people of Israel. The star that leads these foreigners to Bethlehem shows us that he is for all people, not just those whose heritage he shares.
Through his humble birth Jesus enters into our reality, God become truly human. This is the king whom the Magi prostrate themselves before, a child at home in the small village of Bethlehem with his mother, Mary. The revelation of Christ to each of us is not a once-and-for-all event, but one that continues throughout our lives.
We can ask ourselves, too, what we might miss when the signs are right in front of our eyes. What is God doing in our midst? Is it something that others – foreigners, those not part of the “in” crowd – notice, but it escapes our attention? Let us die to our preconceived notions and surety in knowing the Lord and be open to what God has in store for us.
Along each step of the journey we take as Christians, we might formulate a different answer to the question echoing in our hearts from the one who cannot be contained or defined by human intellect: “Who do you say that I am?” Like the Magi may we continue to follow the stars in our lives that lead us closer and closer to Jesus’ divine presence within the holy and the ordinary. God is doing something new. There is an epiphany under way. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Let us pray.
For all of us gathered here today, that we may seek to manifest Jesus, the light of the world, through lives well lived and love poured out. We pray to the Lord.
For members of diverse religions of our world, may respectful dialogue promote peace and harmony for all. We pray to the Lord.
For children worldwide, especially those caught in the crosshairs of violence and war, may they know protection and safety, and experience healing from trauma. We pray to the Lord.
That the light of Christ may bring consolation to all who are disenfranchised and have no permanent home. We pray to the Lord.
That the radiance of Christ brings awareness to all people of the plight of migrants and refugees. May we understand the need for greater protection for all God’s children. We pray to the Lord.
That our American soldiers, who are once again thrown into an unnecessary war, be protected and that our leaders refrain from further attacks. We pray to the Lord.
That the light of Christ shine for all who are searching for God or meaning in life: that the Good News may become real to them and be a light that leads them to wholeness. We pray to the Lord.
That as we continue our building and repairs a benefactor or benefactors will be led to our humble parish as we look to obtain the funding needed to finish the rectory and necessary repairs. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
God of all the worlds that are: Like the Magi coming from far away, we would see that guiding star. We would follow them while they follow its light to the manger. There lies the little boy whom you appointed as bearer of your compassion and redeemer of all who would acknowledge their need of redemption. May the brightness of your Son illumine our path as we strive to live as children of light. May your Word made flesh guide us through all the dark stretches and dark hours of our lives so that in your own good time, we may be welcomed, by your mercy, into the heavenly Jerusalem where there is no night, ever.
Merciful God, for many of us, today is a day of new beginnings -- a new year, a chance to start fresh, a time to "turn over a new leaf." We are buoyed by hopefulness and alive with the anticipation of what this new year might hold. Yet for many others, today is just another day of struggle and tomorrow will be more of the same. Chronic pain, addictions and relationship issues are no less abated because it is now 2020 and not 2019. Nor are sanctuaries, steady employment and financial resources any more abundant for the same reason. Lord, give us eyes to see our neighbors, to look beyond the safety and comfort of our own lives, in order to experience the uncertainty and fear that plague much of our world. Disquiet us with the scandal of injustice, inequity and human misery so that, following the example of Christ, our Savior, we might choose to suffer alongside those who suffer and become bearers of peace, comfort and hope. We ask all these things, through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA