Three Images on the Epiphany of the Lord

The Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord Year-A

Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6
Psalm: Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13
Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12

The Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord signals the end of the Christmas season. It is more popularly known as the feast of the Three Kings because our readings, particularly the gospel, tell us the story of three wise men from the East in search of the newborn king of the Jews. 

The story of the three wise men has been a favorite for generations. However, for Matthew the story had highly charged political overtones. During the time of Jesus, the Persians opposed the eastward expansion of the Roman Empire. The visit of the wise men from the East would represent foreign interference in the affairs of a government appointed and supported by the Roman emperor.

Through this, Matthew communicated his theme: The fulfilment of the Scripture regarding the coming of the Messiah; the true king of the Jews in person of the newborn Jesus as we heard in the first reading and the Psalm.

From the Gospel, we can pick out three images that have direct implications to the Matthean theme and the theme of today’s solemnity of the Epiphany.

The first image is that of the Jews in Jesus’ time. They represent the people whom God chose to be his own. Their ancestors communicated with God through the patriarchs, the judges and the prophets. They are the people who have in their possession the Word of God—the Torah and the teachings of the prophets. In other words, they know God and have the means of seeing God’s actions in their lives and hearing God’s words. And yet we hear, despite all these, these Jews represented by Herod and Temple authorities, chose not to see and hear God and even try to prevent God’s plan of redemption.
 
The second image is that of the wise men. In the eyes of the Jews in Jesus’ time, they were not only foreigners from other lands. In a very religious sense, the wise men—the magi of the East—were considered pagans.From an ancient Jewish perspective, they represented people who did not know the true God of the Israel. They were people who follow a religion that worship the sun, moon and stars and saw divine will written in the night sky; people who study and interpret the stars to advise kings and aristocracy. In short, they represented the people outside of God’s covenant and promise.

And yet, they were the people who were open to God’s self-revelation in the person of a newborn child. They recognised and accepted the signs of God’s work of love in their midst.Unlike Herod, they followed their calling: To seek God that was revealed by the heavens. And when they found him, following ancient protocol, they approached, bowed, and honored the young king and his mother with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
 
Finally, we have the image of God himself. It is the image of God’s constant presence in our world. This presence does not mean that He drops in from time to time, making the occasional visits after creating the whole universe billions of years ago.It is also an image of God who reveals his presence at particular times, in particular places and in a particular manner; an image of God calling different people into relationship with him in different ways: For the Jews through his covenant and prophetic words while for the wise men, through the celestial and astrological movements.These manifestations are meant to point and assure us of God’s enduring creative and saving presence.
 
In commemorating the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, we are encouraged to reflect on these three images.We are being reminded that while we may have the means to recognise, see and hear God in our lives—through the Church and the sacraments—we may still fail to recognise, see and hear God if we do not properly use these means or gifts.
 
More gravely, we will surely fail to recognise God in our lives if, like Herod in the gospel, become more interested in focusing on ourselves; prioritising our own self-interests; making ourselves the centre rather than God.
 
In addition, after encountering Jesus, the wise men were warned not to return the same way. So they did not backtrack but rather took a new road going home.The same challenge is given to us. When we perceive the presence of God; after our encounter with Jesus, we are also being warned not to return to the same way of life. We are also being encouraged not to backtrack. Instead, to take a new road in life—a life with God. A life in God.
 
This coming year, let us reflect the new road before us and ask God to remain with us and help us to perceive his presence in others while letting others perceive his presence in us. And for the last time, Merry Christmas! 

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