Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Scripture Reflections: the Epiphany

First Reading: Isaiah 60: 1-6

Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people: but the Lord shall arise upon you, and his glory shall be seen upon you. And the Gentiles shall walk in your light, and kings in the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes round about, and see: all these are gathered together, they have come to you: your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall rise up at your side. Then shall you see, and abound, and your heart shall wonder and be enlarged, when the multitude of the sea shall be converted to you, the strength of the Gentiles shall come to you. The multitude of camels shall cover you, the dromedaries of Madian and Epha: all they from Saba shall come, bringing gold and frankincense: and showing forth praise to the Lord.

Second Reading: Ephesians 3: 2-3, 5-6

If yet you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me towards you: How that, according to revelation, the mystery has been made known to me, which in other generations was not known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit: That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs and of the same body: and copartners of his promise in Christ Jesus, by the gospel.

Gospel: Matthew 2: 1-12

When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of King Herod, behold, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying: "Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to adore him."
And King Herod, hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And assembling together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where Christ should be born. But they said to him: "In Bethlehem of Juda. For so it is written by the prophet: 'And you, Bethlehem the land of Juda, are not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of you shall come forth the captain that shall rule my people Israel.'"
Then Herod, privately calling the wise men, learned diligently of them the time of the star which appeared to them; and sending them into Bethlehem, said: "Go and diligently inquire after the child, and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I also may come and adore him." Who having heard the king, went their way. And behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, until it came and stood over where the child was. And seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother; and falling down they adored him. And opening their treasures, they offered him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having received an answer in sleep that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their country.


            Ah, the three wise men! And to think I still picture those singing camels whenever I hear that song.
            The significance of the Magi is that they represent the coming of Christ to the Gentiles. Now, there are a number of points here. First of all, compare and contrast the means by which the news of Christ’s birth was conveyed to the Jewish witnesses (the shepherds) and the Gentiles (the Magi). The shepherds receive a vision of angels announcing to them that a savior is born in Bethlehem, and they behold the heavenly choirs singing and praising God as they go to seek the child. The Magi, in contrast, are alerted by the more prosaic – not to mention pagan – means of astrology.
            What are we to make of these contrasting methods? Here we have a microcosm of the different means by which God spoke to the Jews and the Gentiles. It’s clear, of course, that God never abandoned or ignored the Gentiles, even though He did not explicitly reveal Himself as He did to the Jews. They had their own arts and sciences, by which they were able to come to some kind of an understanding of God and His plan, despite their lack of revelation. Thus, the Magi are able to understand that the coming of Christ is an event of foremost significance and were willing to travel untold miles to seek and honor Him.
            The Jews, on the other hand, were the keepers of revelation. Thus, they receive the first and most direct announcement of the Birth of the Lord via the angelic vision gifted to the shepherds. Not only that, but they were able to foretell exactly where Jesus would be born, which the Magi were unable to do.
            This indicates that the Magi are more or less walking blind; they clearly know something of the significance of “the King of the Jews,” as evidenced by the gifts they bring, but as to where Jesus fits into the history of Israel, they seem to be pretty much ignorant. Nevertheless, they evidence greater faith than Herod or his scholars, since they come humbly seeking to honor the newborn King of the Jews with suitable gifts.
            The Gentiles, this passage seems to be saying, may lack the revelation that has been gifted to the Jews, but they know God after their own fashion, and they are capable of showing greater faith and understanding of His ways than even the Jews, to whom God has revealed Himself. Thus, by their presence they do not only represent that God is now welcoming the Gentiles, but they also show that He had never abandoned them in the first place. God is now “visiting His people,” and His people include all people, Jew and Gentile.
            One more thing; God is reminding us here not to be afraid to seek wisdom even from among the pagans. The pagans here showed greater faith and understanding than the Jewish scholars. Thus, this passage anticipates the appropriation of other pagan “wise men” into the Christian mind. Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, the wise men from the east, are the forerunners of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, the wise men from the west, who would also end up bearing witness to Christ. 

Vive Christus Rex!

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