Matthew 2: 1-12Epiphany is a Greek word which means to manifest or to reveal something that is hidden. For Christianity, it is the manifestation of Jesus to the nations. “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son…” (Hebrews 1:1). Today we celebrate the moment when God revealed his face to humanity which was kept hidden in times past. Popularly known as the celebration of the three kings or magi, there is more to consider in the historical and symbolic meanings of this feast.
At the time of the magi, there was an expectation that a ruler of the world would be born from Judea who would bring peace. When this expectation came to pass, what were the responses of the first invitees to see God’s face for the first time?
The scribes and the chief priests knew where the Messiah would be born based on their knowledge of scriptures: “In Bethlehem of Judea…” They represented the theological experts and spiritual leaders of Israel during that time but they responded with indifference like scholars responding to a dead text. They represent those who are engrossed with the doctrinal texts but would never dare to experience the living God.
King Herod was frightened and jealous. He did not just kill his own sons and the members of his household but those whom he considered threat to his throne. He represents those who are obsessed with power and authority who would dare to kill people to preserve their personal interest. They are those who, time and again, may even be called “great” by the world but are swallowed up by the love of their own ego.
The shepherds, considered outcast during that time, were the first guests to see the face of God because they were pure of heart: “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8). They were the first evangelizers of the Incarnation: “they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them” (Lk. 2:17-18). They represent those who continue to make known the face of God in the difficult missions or in the ordinariness of life, so that others may experience God.
The magi, most probably astrologers from Babylon (modern day Iraq), left their homes in search of a higher meaning to life. In their wisdom, they followed the guidance of the star, asked questions from the religious authorities in looking for Someone greater than themselves. When they found Him, they paid Him homage an offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myhrr. Because they were wise men, they took a different route in going back home. They represent those who are willing to give up their comfort, disturb the status quo and break down barriers to discover the presence of the Divine in its many facets. The magi also represent nations, cultures, races and religions who are welcome to the “house of God” which is the Church. The same Church is also open to receive the gifts they bring which are the diverse manifestation of the giftedness of God present in them.
Lastly, the first two human beings who first saw the face of God were Mary and Joseph. Mary in her greatness “kept everything in her heart” and Joseph, the “guardian of the Incarnation” in his profound silence, did not even say a single word.
There is so much controversy, research and studies made about the star of Bethlehem. BBC presented a program about the different theories seen in the perspectives of astronomy, astrology, archeology and astrophysics. For us, what matters most is the symbolic meaning of the star. As it guided the magi to find the baby Jesus, so we have to be aware of the many “stars” in our lives that lead us to encounter the Divine, be it a person or an event, insignificant they maybe.
Jesus incarnates Himself time and again and manifests His presence in many "disguises". How do we respond to the invitation of encountering the Divine?