Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3,5-6; Mt 2:1-12
John Mgliola writes about a small boy who looked at a star and began to cry. The star said: “Boy, why are you crying?” and the boy said, “You are so far away. I will never be able to touch you.” And the star answered: “Boy, if I were not already in your heart, you would not be able to see me.”
Today is the Feast of Epiphany of the Lord. Epiphany, in Greek, is epiphaneia which means, ‘appearance.’ This feast originally celebrated on January 6 which was popularly known as the feast of the Three Kings. Epiphany commemorates and celebrates principally the self-revelation to the Gentiles (non-Jews, the magi) and thus to our ancestors in the faith, of Jesus Christ as the Savior as portrayed by the coming of the three wise men or magi in today’s gospel bringing with them gold, the gift bestowed on kings; frankincense, used to worship at the altar of God; and myrrh, used to prepare the dead body for embalming after death. It is the feast of the universal church.
Today’s gospel according to Saint Matthew limits itself to the adoration of the three wise men which is frequently referred as the magi. The singular tense of the world, tangus, is a term that was used in those days to mean any skilled in occult knowledge and power. Because Matthew mentioned that the magi observed the star rising, (v. 2), this supports that they had knowledge of astrology. Another factor to consider is that they came from the east. This implies that they came from Mesopotamia, the home of astrology in the Hellenistic world. But this gospel is not so much about the magi but about the One who has been born King of the Jews. This gospel passage tells us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea during the reign of King Herod. History reveals to us that Herod the Great, a satellite king of Judea reigned from 37 to 4 BC.
Jesus was born when the time was fulfilled, when God had prepared everything for His coming, when people were longing for the Messiah (Gal 4:4). And yet nobody is forced to receive Him. How the people received Him? The people received Him indifferently.
First was Herod the Great, the king of Palestine. He tried to carry on both shoulders: to the Romans, he tried to be loyal to them, looking for peace and order and trying to bring in the requested taxes. To the Jews, he tried to be a religious ruler, participating in Jewish worship and built the new temple. The only big fault which blocked him to welcome Jesus is his being extremely suspicious. Thus he killed even he suspected to be a rival to his throne. The number of those he killed became bigger and bigger as he grow older. That is why, he was called, ‘a murderous old man.’
Perhaps we are not as suspicious as Herod was. But we might have our own plans about our own life as he had. We want to determine everything. And thus there is no room for God’s ideas and his aspirations. We have closed ourselves off and nobody even dares telling us anything as nobody dared telling Herod the truth.
Second group was the chief priest and the scribes. Their reaction was complete indifference. They just did not care. They were so very busy with their daily affairs especially in the temple service and legal discussions. Maybe because they were concerned of their own safety since King Herod was so suspicious. They just handed the information to King Herod and left cold and uninvolved. They did not dare to lead the magi to the born King. For us especially in all our works we should leave some room for new ideas and not just follow daily routine.
Third group was the magi. They were learned people. Yet their knowledge had not gone to their head but they rather tried to follow their better insight. When they found Jesus, they offered Him three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Let us turn to the symbolism of these gifts.
The first gift was the gold. Among ancient people, gold was regarded as the king of metals. It was therefore the ideal gift for a king. The magi gave Jesus all their love as pure, solid, lasting and as purified from selfish motives. They wanted to love Jesus with all their heart and mind. God symbolizes fidelity and perseverance. Their love was sincere.
The second gift was the frankincense. Ancient people used incense in their religious worship. The aroma and smoke, spiraling upward to heaven, spoke to them of gods and divinity. The gift of incense, therefore, is a symbol of the divinity of Jesus. It tells us that Jesus always had the nature of God but became like man and appeared in human likeness (Phil 2:6-9).
It has been used as a symbol of adoration. The magi adored Jesus as God. Even today we use incense in the liturgy as a sign of worship. In particular, we incense the gospel in which Jesus is present, the altar representing Christ and the gifts of bread and wine on the altar which will become the Body and Blood of Christ.
The third gift was myrrh. Among ancient people, myrrh was used to prepare the dead for burial. For example, the women brought myrrh to the tomb of Jesus. Because of myrrh’s relationship with death,, it made an ideal symbol of human vulnerability.
The gift of myrrh, therefore, is symbolic of the humanity of Jesus. It speaks to us of Jesus’ human vulnerability. Like us, He experienced the whole range of human emotions: sorrow, joy, fear, frustration, loneliness, anger and others. He was like us in all things but sin.
Like the magi, let us give our love, fidelity, perseverance and sincerity to Jesus. Let us offer Him our prayer and our human weaknesses too. But specifically, like the magi and according to Bishop Socrates Villegas in his, Love Like Jesus, let us have the three S of this Feast of Epiphany. The first S is, to See. The wise men saw the star and they followed. God tells us not to see with our physical eyes but to see with our hearts because God is in our hearts, His favorite place within us.
The second S is Search. The wise men were searching for Christ. They wanted to find the meaning of life and they found it in Christ and in living for others. God wants us to live an exciting life and not just be satisfied with the monotony and the boredom of life. The last S is Submit or to obey. The wise men did this once they found Jesus and offered to Him the best of everything. Let us submit to His will and authority because His will and authority are the best for us.
Let us see, search and submit and surely we will find what we have been looking for all these years.
See Today’s Readings: Year B