THE DAY WHEN WE CELEBRATE THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST TO THE GENTILES
(A biblical reflection on THE SOLEMNITY OF THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD, Sunday, 7 January 2018)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 2:1-12
First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalms: Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,10-13; Second Reading: Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6
The Scripture Text
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern My people Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared, and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found Him bring me word, that I too may come and worship Him.” When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:1-12 RSV)
Today is Epiphany Sunday, the day when we celebrate the revelation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. Matthew tells us that wise men “from the East” came to Israel looking for “the child who has born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:1-2). When they finally found Him, they “offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11). What unusual presents to bring to a little baby!
Throughout the ages, many spiritual writers have reflected on the meaning of these gifts. St. Bede the Venerable [672/3-735] taught that gold, because it was so valuable, signified kingship. Frankincense, which was burned in the shrines of numerous deities, represented divinity. And myrrh, a spicy resin used for embalming the dead, was meant to point to Jesus Passion. Similarly, Saint Irenaeus [130-202], one of the Church Fathers, understood the gifts to reflect different aspects of Jesus’ incarnation: gold for a king, frankincense for a high priest, myrrh for a sacrificial victim.
Much more recently, Saint Edith Stein [1891-1942] offered another interpretation of the three gifts. She equated gold with obedience, myrrh with death to self, and frankincense with the purity of our devotion to Him.
These are all fascinating interpretations, and they all can give us much to think about and meditate on. But each in its own way, these three approaches ask us the same question: How far will we go to meet Jesus? What gifts are willing to offer to the Lord? The gifts that the Magi offered were all costly. Evidently, they were willing to pay a high price because they sensed that something special had happened in Bethlehem. They were willing not only to give away precious materials but also to take a long, dangerous journey over the desert to meet and worship this new king. They considered the sacrifice to be worthy because of the hope and promise they found in Jesus.
Bede, Irenaeus, and Edith Stein all felt a connection with the Magi because like these ancient seers, they too had been captivated by Jesus and wanted to give Him their whole lives. Like all those who have gone before us, may the revelation of Christ in our hearts compel us to lay down our lives before Him in worship and adoration.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I come to You as an open vessel. Shine Your light upon my life and guide me closer to You. Amen.
Jakarta, 4 January 2018 [Memoria: St. Angela of Foligno, Franciscan Tertiary]
A Christian Pilgrim