The Adoration of the Magi, Murillo c.1660, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Spain.
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…in the days of King Herod, behold, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? Matthew 2:1-2.
Words highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.
First, that word epiphany. It is Greek, ἐπιφάνεια (epiphaneia), a word which means appearance. In this instance, with the wise men (“Magi”, a priestly caste from the east) arriving and prostrating themselves before the Christ child, the appearance of God’s Son. Hence this event changes an idea, which was perhaps abstract, into a reality, present and visible, the arrival of God with us. They had been following a star (as they were probably astronomers) and had some idea that the Jews had a newborn king and they wished to pay respects. Hence their epiphany was the star and the message coming together and making sense in the manger at Bethlehem. Due to the number and quality of their gifts, over the centuries they were increasingly thought of as three kings, even named Casper, Melchior and Balthazar, though all that is pure conjecture; scripture does not even tell us how many of them there were!
The Three Magi, Landsberg’s Hortus Deliciarum c.1185, Library of Strasbourg, destroyed in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.
They should also be reckoned together with the shepherds who also came to venerate the Christ child, who had witnessed another epiphany, namely the angels who sang Glory to God in the Highest (Luke 2:14) and who had directed them to the stable. This also gives us the idea of the highest and lowest of societies invited to witness this unique, world-saving event. Note also that the Magi were not Jews; they were Gentiles. The local Bethlehem shepherds almost certainly were Jewish. Consequently Jesus’ life and witness was universal from the first moment.
For many Christians, the Epiphany is integral to the Christ event and was linked with the Nativity and the Resurrection from the earliest days. Eastern Christians look to Jesus’ baptism and his first miracle at Cana as the Epiphany, all of them displaying the appearance in one way or another of Jesus, the Son of God. For us today, then, it is an event which shows us that everybody is welcome into the stable, into the Christ event, no matter who we are, what our background might be, how rich or poor we are or anything else that might distinguish us from others. In the eyes of God we are utterly equal and it is up to us what we do with that. No bewailing our unhappy lot, no groveling in our wealth and power, no superiority or inferiority. We all stand equal before the Lord, as did the shepherds and the Magi. It is with such acceptance and support that we attempt to serve the Lord with the skills God has given us, loyally developed to their full potential. As children of God, then, we all enjoy an equal starting moment; even being allowed to start again if necessary, so that we become an epiphany to those around us, an appearance of the Lord, as it were, whose servant we are, as each of us is Christ to the world.
The Three Kings, Holy Art.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
PLEASE FORWARD THIS WEBPAGE TO THOSE YOU THINK WOULD APPRECIATE IT. THANK YOU.