Jesus came in the most unexpected of ways; the King of Kings was born in a manger as a baby.
His coming was not shouted from the rooftops, nor did he come as a great warrior, like so many of the Jewish people expected. Since Jesus’s birth was concealed from most of the world, Italian crèches highlight this aspect of the Nativity. Unlike American Nativity scenes, they are extremely busy and showcase an entire village; Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are not the prominent or central figures. The Italian crèche allows us to really understand how Jesus came. He was hidden. His coming was humble, and it took a journey of faith and trust to find him.
The magi in today’s Gospel had the wisdom and openness to see the light of the star and follow it. They were on watch, just as we were during Advent, and had a heart willing to follow the light that they saw. They set aside the tasks of daily life in order to worship the Messiah. Are we willing to do the same in our own lives? Do we seek Christ, and when we find him, do we worship him and pay him homage?
First Reading Reflection
The Church understands this text from Isaiah as pointing prophetically to the Adoration of the Magi, which we celebrate on this feast of Epiphany, meaning “manifestation.” “Your light has come,” Isaiah says, “the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” Indeed, light is a prominent theme in the Liturgy during this dark and cold time of the year. Isaiah continues, saying, “Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.” Let’s delve into this a little further.
On this solemn feast, it is precisely kings who walk by God’s shining radiance. The light of course comes from the star of Bethlehem. But what—or who—is the star? Christ is not only the babe born at Bethlehem, but the Light of the World. In Revelation 22:16, St. John records Our Lord closing the revelation with these words: “I, Jesus, sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the root and offspring of David, the bright morning star.” Christ is both the babe lying below the star, and also the star that shines above. The light of the star that guides the Wise Men symbolizes the light that Christ casts by his coming into the dark of this world.
Second Reading Reflection
In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we see an expression of the fulfillment of the prophecy which the Magi represent. The specific role that the Gentiles (non-Jews) are to play is revealed in the living prophecy of the Wise Men. The Magi from the East come to pay homage not merely to the King of the Jews but to the universal King of the Nations—the King of Kings. That Christ is the King of all mankind is not finally made clear, however, until after the birth of the infant Church and the special revelations given to Sts. Peter and Paul that direct them to extend the Church to the Gentiles. The early Church probably reflected on the Jewish Scriptures in the light of these new revelations and realized that God’s promise to Israel had been a universal promise from the beginning.
The first covenants were, after all, universal. The covenants with Adam at creation and with Noah after the flood were intended to extend to the whole of the human family—all the descendants of those two covenant mediators. It is not until Abraham that God chooses one people to mediate his covenantal love to the rest of mankind. At every step of salvation history, however, God’s overtures to his creatures are frustrated by human sin. So, finally, he sends his only Son who can act as the perfect Mediator between God and man because he is both God and man.
Gospel Reading Reflection
The Wise Men left their homes in the East in search of the Messiah, which means “anointed one” in Hebrew. Since the kings of Israel were anointed with oil like David (1 Samuel 16), it was assumed that the Messiah would be a great king. David was called God’s anointed precisely because he was Israel’s king. The Wise Men followed a star, from which they inferred that the great King of Israel had been born. The next obvious question is, how did they know from the appearance of a star that the Messiah of Israel had been born?
The answer may be found in the story of Balaam from the Book of Numbers. The similarities between the two stories are striking. For example, Balaam happens to be a Magi from the East. The wicked King of Moab hired Balaam to use his magic to curse Israel. But every time Balaam attempted to curse Israel, he uttered a blessing instead. The Spirit of God came upon Balaam and, in blessing Israel, he prophesied that one day a star would come out of Israel signifying the coming of a great king as symbolized by a scepter. Many believe that the prophecy of Balaam was kept by his descendants—fellow Magi—and, eventually, on to the three who visited Jesus.
As we reflect on the Magi’s journey of faith to meet Christ, let us consider how we can follow the light of Christ in our own life. Please take a few minutes and listen to Jim Beckman’s insight into today’s Gospel by playing the Opening the Word video on FORMED.org.
In today’s Second Reading, St. Paul tells the Ephesians that the mystery of salvation is being revealed to them in a way unlike ever before. Salvation had been proclaimed for ages to the Jewish people, but it was never known how salvation would come to them. When have you been surprised by the way something worked out? Is it hard to trust that everything will “work out” in the end? Do you remain hopeful and place your trust in the Lord when situations arise that you don’t have control over?
In today’s Gospel, we hear of the journey of the Magi to meet the Christ Child. Their journey is one of great faith— though they are not Jewish, they have studied enough to recognize the star that leads them to the coming of the Savior as a newborn boy. As we can imagine, this is probably not what they expected to see. However, the wise Magi were able to recognize the King of Kings in a tiny infant. Finally, they disobey a powerful ruler and change their route home because of a dream. What provoked the Magi to begin this journey in the first place? Where in your life do you need to trust God as the Magi did?
DIGGING DEEPER: More on the Gifts
Allegorically, the gifts of the magi signify the mystery of Christ incarnate. Gold, a symbol of royalty, represents the kingship of Jesus. Frankincense, used in the worship of God, points to his divinity. Myrrh, a burial ointment, signifies the humanity of Christ, especially in his Passion and Death. Morally, the treasures signify the gifts we present to Christ in our daily lives. Gold is Christ’s wisdom, which shines in us, frankincense is the prayer and adoration we give him, and myrrh is our daily self-sacrifices (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, 9).