Photos: Courtesy of Jesuit Refugee Service – used with permission
Isaiah 60:1-6 Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6 Matthew 2:1-12
The feast of the Epiphany (manifestation of God among us) is a beloved feast in the Christian world. There is rarely a creche without the presence of the Magi. The feast occurs on the twelfth day of Christmas.
There are many traditions associated with this celebration. It is a time of gift giving in Spain and Latin America. In Greece, Orthodox Christians celebrate the Epiphany by diving into an icy body of water. It is thought to be a blessing of water in preparation for Jesus’ baptism. In Germany the tradition calls for a blessing of the home. C+M+B is chalked on the lintel. Today, many think the initials are for the names given the Magi in the eighth century (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar) but originally the letters stood for Christus mansionem benedicat, translated as “May Christ Bless this House”.
The Gospel story of the Epiphany tells us that three Gentile wise men followed a star to do homage and to bring gifts to Jesus as the newborn King. Traditionally, the identity of these 3 wisdom figures varies. Sometimes they are referred to as Kings and sometimes as Magi, a member of a priestly caste of ancient Persia. Always they are from the East and non-Jewish, not of a tribe or house of Judaism. The significance of the feast is that the manifestation / revelation to the Gentiles means that Gentiles are also now co-heirs in God’s Kin-dom. Paul tells us that the revelation of God as present among us includes all peoples.
But what are we to learn from the Magi? We hold them in reverence and marvel at the richness of their gifts. Yet the power of the feast must extend beyond feelings of gratitude and wonder. What is the message today? I find three:
- The Magi or Kings are strangers to the small Jewish family of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. They are strangers, foreigners from the east, who study astrology and listen to dreams. Yet, when these strangers are welcomed into the stable, we learn of their beauty and admire their humble quest. Unfortunately, today we live in a country where fear and rejection of the stranger is considered normal and necessary. We wall out those who are different, fearing that they may strip us rather than gift us. We forget that strangers may be other Magi, wisdom figures with gifts, although without the externals of royalty that we have added over time. In addition, after the Magi returned home Jesus and his parents became refugees, strangers in Egypt.
- The Magi studied the stars. While we have no record of Joseph or Jesus also being astrologers, the holy family was open to those who studied other forms of truth. The story tells us that new ways to search for truth, openness to new information, willingness to study and to hear the truth in others’ beliefs is sacred. The Magi found truth “we have seen his star” beyond that of the Torah or other holy books. Today, collective movements for peace and protection of earth are interfaith, also including those without faith. So, we must remember that as we seek truth, we must remain open to all wisdom.
- The story of the Magi teaches us to be open to God’s actions in our lives. We often experience something unplanned that in retrospect is profound and holy. On this feast we celebrate that God is present, that God is found to be among us, and that God gives us other people, nature, sacred writings, etc. to fill us with wonder and to bring us awe. We, like the Magi, are also on a journey. We too are searching, depending on what we know and see to guide us forward. Like the Magi, we are journeying into the unknown. … Jan Richardson reminds us in her poem:
For Those Who Have Far to Travel
An Epiphany Blessing
one of the mercies
of the road:
that we see it
only by stages
as it opens
The message of the feast of Epiphany is to live fully, welcoming everything in life as a possibility and a grace. Our life journey can be difficult, but there are times when there are stars, times we welcome a stranger who gives us something precious, times we struggle with a Herod and are warned by a dream, and times we are surprised by a stable and blessed with a child. What is important to remember is that we journey together and that we are journeying into mystery. We have seen his star…