THE EPIPHANY: THE CONVERGENCE OF KNOWLEDGE AND FAITH
“Where is the Infant King of the Jews? … We saw His Star as it arose and we come to do Him homage” (Matthew2: 1-12)
The Church celebrates today the Solemnity of the Epiphany. This celebration, which could be considered the most iconic incidents of the Christmas narrative, means the Unveiling, or the Revelation, or the Appearing and/or the Manifestation of Christ’s Kingship and Divinity (to the Gentile world). This story of the visit of the Magi from the “land of sunrise” or the Wise men, is only found in the Gospel of Matthew. In telling the story, Matthew situates it within historical figure (Herod) and a known geographical location (Bethlehem) in order to establish its authenticity. For us to sift out the theological and spiritual messages in this narrative, as intended by the Church, I like to focus on Herod, the Magi and the unmentioned group in relation to the Infant King.
Who was Herod? Herod was puppet king put in place to serve the Romans. He was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau, from Idumea. Therefore, he was an illegitimate king who would do anything to anyone he felt was a threat to his throne, power and influence. He killed several officers of his guard, several members of his family, including his wife, Mariamne when he was no longer certain of their loyalty. We can see why he was determined to kill the Infant King, and went on to kill the innocent children in their numbers. How easy power can intoxicate; how deceptive can power be; and how blind are those who possess power that they fail to realise the transitory nature of power. Herod pretended to be interested in worshipping Jesus: “Go and find out all about the child, and when you have found Him, let me know so that I too may go and do Him homage” (Matthew 2: 8). However, in his heart, he was troubled and determined to kill and eliminate Jesus, whom he saw as a threat to his throne, in order to prevent Him from being the King. Herod represents those who pretend to love Jesus but have no regard for Him in their hearts; he represents those who are threatened by the Name and Person of Jesus. Herod is a metaphor for many politicians and rulers of our day, who do anything and everything to retain their political offices even in their illegitimacy, irrelevance and ineffectiveness.
What is our relationship to Jesus? Do we really love Him or do we pretend to love Him? Or, are you troubled and perturbed by Him and what He stands for? Do we see others as threats at work, family, Church, in political and social life? How do we feel about others?
Who were the Magi? In a very broad sense, the Magi were regarded as wise men gifted with wisdom and knowledge; they were astrologers and/or astronomers, with the ability to read the stars and celestial signs. Their interest in the stars could have led them to recognise the uniqueness of this exceptional star that appeared in the sky. But it is certainly something more that moved them to action. Perhaps they were familiar with Balaam’s “prophecy of the sun” in Numbers 24: 17: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel.” Pope Benedict in his book, Jesus of Nazareth, says that nothing could have prompted them to action “unless they were people of inner unrest, people of hope, people on the lookout for the true star of salvation.” There was something more than mere inquisitiveness and intellectual curiosity that compelled these first non-Jews, these first Gentiles to visit the Infant King and to pay homage. St. Bede the Venerable describes them as follows:
The Magi were the ones who gave gifts to the Lord. The first is said to have been Melchior, an old man with white hair and long beard … who offered gold to the Lord as king. The second, Gaspar by name, young and beardless and ruddy complexioned, … honoured Him as God by his gift of incense, an oblation worthy of divinity. The third, black-skinned heavily bearded named Balthasar, by his gift of myrrh testified to the Son of Man who was to die.”
These depictions of the Magi are every significant. That their ages cut across youth, adult and the aged signifies that the Infant King is not only born for and should be adored by all men of all ages; that their identity portrays the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa also signifies that He is the King of the world, who has come not only to save the Jews but all humanity. In Him, there are no longer Jews nor Gentiles, male or female, for all are one in Christ (Galatians 3: 28). The Infant King has come to break all barriers of nationality, race, ethnic, sex and language differences. By taking the nature of man He has bridged the gap that separated US all. He is the King of all and Saviour of the world. The Magi are a metaphor for those who encounter Jesus, know Him, love Him, follow Him and worship Him as Lord. They represent those who still seek the Truth in sincerity of heart. The action of the Magi convey a simple message to our world today that in Christ, true knowledge and real faith have a perfect convergence.
As Christians, we seek Jesus, who we claim to know? When we find Him, do we love Him? How far have we followed him? Do we worship and adore Him with our hearts and treasures?
There is a group of people that are not mentioned in the entire story of the birth of Jesus but who were very close, that is, the neighbours of the place He was born. We are not told in the entire nativity story about their visit, except when they refused an inn for Him to be born (Luke 2: 7). They simply did not take any notice of Him. While shepherds came from a distance and Wise Men travelled from the east, they were so close yet too far away and too busy to realise what was happening around them. This group represents that group of people who today are indifferent to Christ; those who are blind to the works of God in their lives; those who have chosen the path of disbelief and have refused to listen to the inner longings of their hearts, which truly seeks that ultimate truth and peace that only comes from God. The Book of Wisdom 13: 1 says: “Naturally stupid are all men who have not known God and who from the good things that are seen have not been able to discover Him Who is.”
Which of these groups do we belong – Herod, The Magi or the Neighbours?
My dear friends in the Lord, the Epiphany is God’s self-revelation as the Light of the world in the star that led the Magi. Isaiah says “Lift up your eyes and look around” (Isaiah 60: 4). Let us lift up our eyes and look around us, let us open the eyes of our minds so that we can see the revelation of God in the mystery of our daily lives. May the Light of Christ shine brightly to guide and lead us to Himself. Amen.