Two-Minute Reflection by Dr Jenny Close for the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord 2023.
“Epiphany is a prime opportunity to bring home the message about the universal significance of the birth of Jesus. This child who is born to us, was not just Messiah for the Jews, but saviour of the world.”
- Two-Minute Homily Transcript
Two-Minute Homily TranscriptAuthor: Archdiocese of Brisbane
With the feast of the Epiphany, the Christmas season is almost over. So, Epiphany is a prime opportunity to bring home the message about the universal significance of the birth of Jesus. This child who is born to us, was not just Messiah for the Jews, but saviour of the world. All the readings for Epiphany point to this reality.
In the gospel reading, Matthew paints an evocative picture of the wider world symbolised by the wise men coming to Judea to witness the birth of the saviour. For Matthew, this is not just a Jewish event. The birth of Jesus, the Incarnation, has universal consequences.
In the first reading, from Isaiah, we hear that ‘Nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn… they shall bring gold and frankincense’. Sound like the Magi? Psalm 71 refers to a saviour who brings enlightenment and justice to the whole world and ‘peace till the moon fails’, in other words forever.
The second reading is from Ephesians, and Saint Paul tells us that ‘the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body,
and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.’ The story of the visit of the wise men, or Magi as we know them, is replete with dreams, portents, prophecies and archetypal imagery. For example, King Herod plays the role of the villain in this tale. Over and against Herod is the star that guided the Magi to Bethlehem.
To ancient Jews, stars were considered to be animate beings and identified with Angels. So here we have Herod representing the dark forces and the star representing the forces of the light. The Magi, in this story, are exemplars of wisdom from the non-Jewish world practitioners of enlightenment, so to speak. And here they are coming to a seemingly insignificant town in Judea to witness the arrival of a miracle child, a star child, who was prophesied to be ‘the king of the Jews.’
An important aspect of this story is the way that the beginning of the Jesus story foretells the end. The birth of Jesus is aligned with the sinister political machinations of Herod, who is out to protect himself from a rival, even by murdering infants. The wise men offered the Christ child gifts, which later Christian tradition interpreted as symbolic, gold representing the kingship of Jesus, frankincense his divinity, and myrrh his suffering and death.
So, this is not a sweet and innocent tale of a young family experiencing the joys of a first-born child, so much as it is a grand drama with a story arc that has universal implications. The Magi were warned in a dream not to report back to Herod about the birth of Jesus. So, their homeward journey did not take them in a familiar direction. Because of their encounter with Jesus, they chose a new path. For Christians, an encounter with Jesus has similar consequences it means following an enlightened path through life.