In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, the manifestation of God at the incarnation. The reading is from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, the story of the manifestation of God to the wise men of the East. The reading can be read in parallel with the manifestation of God to the shepherds in Gospel according to St. Luke. Both narratives tell us how God manifest to different peoples and how we can learn from them to recognize epiphanies in our own lives where God touch us with his graces that lead us to a new conversion, a new insight and a new stage of spiritual growth. Although our epiphanies can be many, as were shown in the narratives of St. Matthew and St. Luke, we must remember that there is only one God and that he has one way manifesting himself.
First, he manifest himself to the poor and the outcast. In the narrative of St. Luke, such people are the shepherds. They are marginalized people. They are not well educated. They are isolated from their community. On the other hand, the wise men from the East in the Gospel of St. Matthew are foreigners. They are not the chosen people of God according to the Jews. They come from a land far away.
What we can learn from the manifestation of God to them is that when we are marginalized or excluded because of faith, class, race, economic circumstances, status in society and sex, we experience epiphany. God manifest himself to us in such circumstance. In the same way, whenever we come across to people in the minority, God also manifest to us in them.
The manifestation of God comes from a sign from heaven. In the Gospel of St. Luke, the sign is given by an angel in glory appears to the shepherds; while in that of St. Matthew, the wise men are guided by a star. Both narratives tell us that in every epiphany it is not our doing and that it does not come from flesh and blood but from the Father from Heaven (cf Matthew 16:16-17).
Having experienced the manifestation of God to them, the shepherds and the wise men rejoice that the heavenly sign was fulfilled. When the wise men saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy (verse 10), while the shepherds glorified and praised God (Luke 2:20a).
To come to the epiphany, the wise men travelled a long away from their home and stopped over at various stages before reaching their destination. They came from the East to Jerusalem to search for something. This is a metaphor for us. Are we also searching something spiritually?
Their meeting with Herod in Jerusalem (verses 3 to 9) was very interesting in the sense that while the wise men felt entirely humble and open, Herod was nervous and feeling insecure. To whom in the Gospel we identify with? Why?
When they found a child with his mother, they realized that that was what they had looked for. It was so simple and yet so extraordinary (verses 10 and 11). The focus of the verses is not the gifts they offered to Jesus, but the presence of Jesus among us.
The conclusion of today’s reading is that the wise men returned to where they came from by a different route. Pray for the grace that we would live differently after having experienced manifestation of God. Amen.