Not a Shop Window Display
(FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY)
Rev. Dominique Peridans
The feast of the Epiphany.
Early on, the Church had a sense in faith that this merited a special celebration. Saint Clement of Alexandria (Egypt, not Virginia!), prominent theologian, who died in 215, mentions it. There is written
and historian Ammianus Marcellinus, in 361.
“Epiphany” means manifestation. We celebrate God incarnate, the Word made
flesh, made manifest to the Gentiles (i.e., to the rest of the world, beyond the Jewish community), in the persons ofthe Magi. The first to visit the Christ-child were the shepherds, simple and lowly, who were Jews. The second to visit the Christ-child were the Magi, these other mysterious figures, who represent the learned pagan world. The first reading (Isaiah 60:3) speaks prophetically of them:
“Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”
This passage from Isaiah has led many to conclude that the Magi were, in fact, kings. It is unclear who they are. The term Magi comes from a Persian term, “mag” for “priest”. Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, says,
reference to this feast
by Roman soldier
“Three kings from the Orient bringing gifts to Jesus in a manger is a charming
story, but it’s not actually the one we find in the Bible. A closer reading ofMatthew
shows that we have no idea how many people were there, and we don’t know how
far east they came from. Was it the Orient? Was it New Jersey?... And most
importantly, they were definitely not kings.....They were Magi, as in magicians,
and not the cute kind you hire for your kid’s birthday party. Yet history made them
out to be kings, maybe because the reality that they were magicians is too distasteful,
since no one really wants the weird fortune-teller lady from the circus with her
scarves and crystal balls to be the first to discover the birth of our Lord. So, the
story has been nicened up into an idealized picture ofmulticultural diplomacy. But
the Epiphany story ofHerod and his infanticide reveals a God who has entered our
world as it actually exists, and not as the world we often wish it would be.”
The exact identity ofthe Magi is indeed difficult to specify.
Whatever the case may be--pagan priests or magicians, both astrologers, three or more, named or
unnamed, they are traditionally portrayed as coming in full regalia, with gifts. They come with all their learnedness, rather moved in their minds. Theirs is an attraction of which we may not often think.
The simplicity of the shepherds, moved in their hearts, seems more accessible. The Magi, sometimes called the wise men (not wise guys!), are mysteriously moved in their minds. They come reading the stars: in this case, a star, indicating the birth of a king. Given what they say, we may presume that they came expecting divinity: a king from above.
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We have seen his star at its rising.”
We can perhaps say that they come because they have been given a gift from
Christ, before even seeing Him: faith. This they are given, not because of privilege, but because they are seekers. God likes seekers. God extends Himself to
those who seek.
Faith is a gift, freely given, which entails a very subtle attraction to God, enabling us to discern mystery from above. It is interesting and important to note, also, that faith does not eliminate the use of the mind. Indeed, the Magi come moved
by faith, all the while reading the star...
St. John Chrysostom (+ 407), in a commentary on this, says,
“Since they sought a heavenly King,
though they found Him in no signs of royal pre-eminence, yet, content with the testimony of a star alone,
Saint Augustine and
Saint Jerome support the understanding of magician.
No Church Father holds the
Magi to have been kings.
Additionally, the Gospel narrative fails to mention the
number of the Magi.
Some Church Fathers speak of three Magi, likely influenced
by the number of gifts.
The Gospel narrative also fails to mention the names of the Magi.
In the Western part of the Church, from the seventh century, we find slight
variants of the names, Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.
With the eyes of the body , they see a fragile infant. With the eyes of faith, they “see” God. Only faith can bridge the apparent abyss between child and God. It is
very much like our situation regarding the Eucharist. Only faith can bridge the apparent abyss between bread and God.
The Magi come and find. They find what they were seeking in faith, and they are
filled with joy. The first thing that they do upon seeing the child is to adore. They “prostrated themselves and did him homage.” (verse 11) Adoration is always the first, fundamental act in the presence of God. They also offer gifts, gifts in keeping with the reality of this child. The gifts are revealing for us:
“gold, as to a king; myrrh, as to one who was mortal, and incense,
as to a God.”
More things will later be revealed about the Christ. But this is the initial revelation to the world, through the Magi. Revelation is not a shop window display. It is sharing that invites experience.
Let us adore and experience Jesus, our King of Kings, our God, the Lamb, Who comes to us now in a special way in the Eucharist.
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