Fr. Armando’s Gospel Meditation: Epiphany

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.” (Mt 2:1-12)

1. MAGI FROM THE “LAND OF SUNRISE”

Petition: Jesus, you were adored by these wise men coming from a faraway land. Please give me, like them, a spirit of worship and adoration. They were moved to seek you by their desire of salvation in a world of sin, by their desire to find the truth in a world of darkness and lies. Their hope brought them to you; to recognize and adore you. My God, I beg you to always let me seek truth and salvation; let me always come to you—the Truth and my Savior, always present in the Blessed Sacrament and in my heart—like the Magi, with a deep attitude of respect and adoration offering what I have: a poor and selfish heart.

In the Old Testament there is a blessing of Jacob’s in which the patriarch prophesies to his son Judah: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Gen 49:10). In addition, the mysterious prophet Balaam who was a non-Jew and a worshipper of other gods, made a prophecy that was evidently known outside Israel: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh: a star shall come forth out of Jacob and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Num 24:17).

The Magi, even if they were not precisely members of the Persian priesthood (which the word “Magi” can signify), nevertheless were men in search of religious and philosophical wisdom. They might have been astronomers. All kinds of investigations had been done, so we can guess that “all kinds of factors could have combined to generate the idea that the language of the star contained a message of hope” (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Infancy).

But none of this would have prompted people to set off on a journey, unless they were people of inner unrest, people of hope, people on the lookout for the true star of salvation.

The men of whom Matthew speaks were not just astronomers. They were “wise.” They represent the inner dynamic of religion toward self-transcendence, which involves a search for truth, a search for the true God and hence “philosophy” in the original sense of the word (love of wisdom). Wisdom, then, serves to purify the message of “science”: the rationality of that message does not remain at the level of intellectual knowledge, but seeks understanding in its fullness, and so raises reason to its loftiest possibilities . . .  

From all that has been said, we can obtain some sense of the outlook and the knowledge that prompted these men to set off in search of the newborn “king of the Jews.” We could well say that they represent the religions moving toward Christ, as well as the self-transcendence of science toward him. In a way they are the successors of Abraham, who set off on a journey in response to God’s call. In another way they are the successors of Socrates and his habit of questioning above and beyond conventional religion toward the higher truth. In this sense, these figures are forerunners, preparers of the way, seekers after truth, such as we find in every age . . .

The key point is this: the wise men from the east are a new beginning. They represent the journeying of humanity toward Christ. They initiate a procession that continues throughout history. Not only do they represent the people who have found the way to Christ: they represent the inner aspiration of the human spirit, the dynamism of religions and human reason toward him. (Ibidem)

2. THEY WERE OVERJOYED AT SEEING THE STAR

Petition: Lord Jesus, God of steadfastness and encouragement, may you fill our faith and hope in you with your joy and peace. As a result, may we be fulfilled and complete in that peace that surpasses all knowledge and overjoyed with the graces and gifts that you give to those who put their hope in you and attract others to your Church. With them, may we one day achieve the fulfillment of all our desires in contemplating you face-to-face in Heaven.

It is astronomically proven as a fact that there was a great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the sign of Pisces between 7 and 6 B.C. which is when Jesus’ birth is dated. This is likely the star that the Magi followed (cf. Jesus of Nazareth, the Infancy, Benedict XVI, which includes a longer and better foundation).

But, obviously, what was moving these wise men was not the star—which could have been a sign—but what spoke to them interiorly. What started the journey for them was the internal movement of hope caused by a promise; only a promise. A word of hope could have brought them to Jerusalem and to Bethlehem: the promise of a king, because that is what they were looking for. It may have been the prophecy of Balaam: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh: a star shall come forth out of Jacob and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Num 24:17).

These wise men, led by the star to search for the king of the Jews, represent the movement of the Gentiles toward Christ, toward the true God. The mystery of the star teaches that the whole cosmos speaks of Christ, even though its language is not yet fully intelligible to man in his present state. He is “the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev 22:13), from him and for him all things have been created (cf. Col 1:16-17). The language of creation provides many pointers: all them pointing to the Author. It gives man an intuition of the Creator (cf. Wis 13:1-6). Moreover, creation is a language that arouses the expectation, indeed the hope, that this God will one day reveal himself, that he will communicate himself to man. And at the same time, because man is capable of moving toward God, it causes an awareness that every man can and should approach him.

Men guided by wisdom and by creation then come to the true God. And that brings joy to the human heart, because God is the Source of all joy: “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (2:10). It is the joy of one whose heart has received a ray of God’s light and who can now experience that his hope has been realized—the joy of one who has found what he sought and has himself been found.

And, therefore, the wise men prostrated before the royal child; they threw themselves onto the ground before him in adoration. This is the homage that is offered when we recognize him as a divine king. The gifts brought by the wise men acknowledge the royal dignity of him to whom they are offered. They represent three aspects of the mystery of Christ: the gold points to Jesus’ kingship, the incense to his divine sonship, the myrrh to the mystery of his Passion.

What is your homage to him? How is your heart seeking for him? Your joy will tell you how truly Jesus is your God.

3. HYMN OF ADORATION

All the peoples, that you have made, will come and adore you, O Lord.

Great and wonderful are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!

Just and true are your ways, O King of the ages!

Who shall not fear and glorify your name, O Lord?

For you alone are holy. All nations shall come and worship you, for your judgments have been revealed. (Revelation 15)