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Solemnity Of The Epiphany: December 30, 2022

Our Scripture passage for this Sunday comes from the Gospel of Matthew 2:1–12. In this passage, we read the well-known story of the Magi who visit the child Jesus in Bethlehem and bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. This passage offers some good points for our reflection and prayer.

One of the first things to note is that this passage contains the first words actually spoken by any person in Matthew’s Gospel. The Gospel writers were careful to use the first words to establish a theme for their writing. Thus, the first spoken question, “Where is the newborn King of the Jews?” is a theme that will resonate throughout Mathew’s Gospel. To be a king in the Jewish world was not just a political position of power. The Jewish people believed that God alone was their king and that any human regent had the responsibility to represent God. Some kings did a better job of being a representative of the Divine Image than others! The people looked to the king to manifest God’s justice, mercy, wisdom, and protection. The Magi were seeking to see the face of God in human representation, and they didn’t find it in Herod. Herod represented ruthless power and political cunning (he even executed three of his own sons). Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus will show us the face of the Father and in doing so He will authentically serve as God’s prefect representative to the people. In witness to that authentic and complete representation, Jesus will properly be hailed as “King of the Jews” when He dies on Calvary. Herod caused others to suffer through his self-centered and untamed ambitious pursuit of power. Jesus suffered for others and opened the doors of God’s mercy and forgiveness through His death and resurrection. Each of us in our baptism has received the commission to carry on the kingly ministry of Jesus. That means we are to be God’s authentic representatives to the people with whom we interact.
Do people see Herod or Jesus in us?
Who represents the face of God, the heart of God, to you?
Who looks to you to be a minister of God’s justice, mercy, truth, wisdom, or protection?
In what settings are you a good representative of God?
In what settings do you find it most difficult to live out the Kingly mission of your baptism?
If someone approached you and asked, “Where can I find the King of the Jews?” what would you say to them?
Another interesting thing to note is that the wise men do not come to visit the babe in the manger. Rather, we are specifically told that they come to visit the child Jesus. That is a very significant difference between searching for a babe and searching for a child. The Greek word used for “child” (Greek paidon) refers to someone three to seven years old, not an “infant” (Greek brephos). That means that the wise men were journeying for years! That took perseverance. They did not go on a weekend pilgrimage or visit for just an hour on Sunday morning. What they did was a journey of life and faith that required commitment and resolve. For years they wandered looking for Jesus until they found Him. They were seekers who were not deterred by the lack of immediate results for their efforts. That is an important message for us because sometimes we can become frustrated in our faith life if we do not sense immediate results to our prayer or at least the effects of God’s presence. We live in a culture of immediate gratification and can easily lose patience or interest when our efforts are not immediately successful. The example of the Magi should inspire and edify us to examine our own lives as disciples and identify ways in which we have allowed our expectation for immediate results to deter us from our commitment to Christ. If the Magi could search for years, certainly we can persevere during difficult and dry times of prayer as well. The Gospels are full of stories of people who persevered in their desire to encounter Jesus. Many of these people had to overcome the objection of the crowds, the cultural expectations of others, and even their own shame in order to finally meet the Lord. Certainly the example of these Magi and the people of perseverant faith are presented for good reason, so we will not give up or lose hope in our discipleship.
When has the expectation for immediate results affected your resolve in prayer or discipleship?
What is a grace or gift from God that you have been seeking for years?
Who is an example of faithful perseverance for you?
How can a faith community help people who struggle to find Jesus?
Why do you think it took the Magi years to find the Lord?
The gifts the Magi brought are all symbolic statements of who Jesus is. Gold is the gift proper for a King. Frankincense was offered by the High Priest to God in the Temple of Jerusalem. Myrrh was used as a perfume in the burial preparation of a body. Thus, the identity of Jesus is manifested in these three gifts: He is King, God (and/or High Priest) and Man (someone who will die). In one way or another, each of us makes the statement of who Jesus is to us based on the gifts we offer from our lives. For some, Jesus is a small part of their lives whose reign extends only to an hour on Sunday morning. Such a limited understanding of Jesus will be reflected in an equally limited gift of one’s life to the Lord. For others, Jesus is the Lord of their lives twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. Such a comprehensive understanding of Jesus will likewise be reflected in an all-encompassing gift of one’s life to the Lord. We tend to give a person the gift that is appropriate because we believe they deserve it and that they can use it.
When it comes to Jesus, what does the Lord deserve from your life?
Who is Jesus to you?
How do you manifest your faith in Jesus through the gifts you offer Him?
What are the gifts you offer to the Lord for Him to use?
The star has historically been interpreted as a symbol for the light of faith leading people to Christ. For each person the path to Christ is unique and personal yet there are some common elements. For example, some people are led to seek God through the wonder of nature (the natural sciences). Others are led to seek God through events of salvation in their lives. Still others are led to seek God because of the influence of another person of faith. God reveals Himself to us in a variety of ways, but there comes a point where we need to consult the Scriptures to really learn who God is through the person of Jesus. A story is told about St. Francis of Assisi who took Lady Poverty to a hill and said to her, “This, Lady, is our cloister.”[1] By this he meant, “The world is the place where we encounter God.” Regardless of what events may have initiated our journey of faith, Scripture is a necessary step in the process of completing that journey and fully grasping the truth of who God is. That is why the Magi could not complete their journey until the Scriptures were consulted. The Word of God in Scripture sheds light on our experiences of faith and more clearly reveals to us the reality of God working in our lives. When we read the Scriptures, we grow in understanding and our eyes are opened to see clearly the character of God. We also unleash the power of God’s Word in our hearts when we read the Scriptures. The Letter to the Hebrews attests that the Word of God is alive and powerful and that it can accomplish great things in our lives once we encounter it (Heb 4:12).
How has the study of Scripture opened your heart and mind in new ways?
What have you learned about God through your reflection on the Word that you did not previously understand just based on your personal experience or the experience of others?
What was the “light” that led you to desire to meet Jesus in a deeper and more personal way?
Who is someone you know that is searching in the darkness, and how can you be a light to them?
What can you do to foster your love for the Word of God in Scripture and share that love with your family and friends?
Lastly, one cannot help but think about the contrast between the Magi and Herod. Herod had all the knowledge of Scripture but did not seek Jesus. The Magi were gentiles who searched in the darkness without the knowledge of Scripture but were willing to travel far distances to meet this newborn king of whom they only had vague knowledge. Herod saw Jesus as a threat to his way of life. The Magi saw Jesus as the source of new and deeper life. Herod lived comfortably in his palace in Jerusalem. The Magi wandered through cold nights and long days to fulfill their journey of faith. Herod had so much but gave nothing. The Magi had only what they could carry, but they gave everything they had. When it comes to our life of faith, Herod represents that attitude that tries to put God in the passenger seat while we control our own destinies. As the saying goes, “If God is your co-pilot, then it’s time to trade places.” Herod had no interest in trading places. The Magi, on the other hand, were eager to pay homage to the true Lord and King of their lives. Herod was un-changed by the birth of Jesus. The Magi were transformed by their encounter with Jesus and even returned home “different” from the way they came.
When does the message of the Gospel become uncomfortable or challenging for you?
When have you gone outside of your comfort zone to serve the Lord?
What do you admire most about the Magi and their journey of faith?
What aspect of Herod do you find most troubling?
What experience of God in your life has most changed you such that you became a different person because of that experience?
Jesus offers Himself to us in every Eucharist we celebrate. How can the attitude of Herod creep into our thoughts and prayers at Mass?
It’s interesting that one of the most common images of early Christian art in the catacombs of Rome is that of the three Magi worshiping Jesus. Why do you think the early Christians of Rome identified with the Magi so strongly during the times of persecution?
[1]Sacrum Commercium sancti Francisci cum domina Paupertate, Ed. Stefano Brufani, Assisi: Edizioni Porziuncola, 1990, chap. 30, ed. 173.
The Adoration of the Magi. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Oil on canvas, 1655. Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio.
Matthew 2:1-12

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod, 
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”
When King Herod heard this,
he was greatly troubled, 
and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, 
He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, 
for thus it has been written through the prophet:
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel.

Then Herod called the magi secretly 
and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said, 
“Go and search diligently for the child.
When you have found him, bring me word, 
that I too may go and do him homage.”
After their audience with the king they set out.
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, 
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star, 
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
Then they opened their treasures 
and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, 
they departed for their country by another way.

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