Epiphany of the Lord

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3 January 2021 |Linda Herndon, OSB

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-31, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

”Do you know who that is?” “Who are they with?” “What are they here for?” Remember when we could have guests in the monastery, and someone would walk in the dining room and you could hear the twittering among sisters asking these and similar questions.

From the Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, it seems that the same type of thing happened about two thousand years ago when some strangers arrived in Jerusalem from the East (or from what we today know as Iran, Iraq, or Syria). Surely Jerusalem had any number of foreigners passing through regularly. It was a major religious center and a large enough city to have its own king…at that time King Herod was there. But these visitors this day where different. They brought news that caused quite a bit of commotion for all in Jerusalem. Just imagine the talk that they created that must have been going around the city that caused all to be troubled: “A king of the Jews was just born here…don’t you think we would know that?”, “Who could possibly be the parents of such a king of the Jews?”, “Who do these strangers think they are telling us about our ruler?”

The reading from the prophet Isaiah describes what the amazing experience will be for Jerusalem when the Savior, her Light, comes. It will be a happening beyond compare! Everyone will recognize when this time arrives since the signs will be many: kings from every nation will come bearing gifts, the riches from the sea will be given to her, her children will gather from distant lands…all will happen for the Lord’s glory will shine upon her. Just imagine this incredible event! 

The psalmist in Psalm 72 echoes what this experience will be like by proclaiming: “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” He then tells us how all will witness the coming of the Lord from the mightiest and most powerful down to his care for the lowest and weakest….All will know him by his justice, compassion, and reign of peace. 

This was the epiphany experience as foretold by Isaiah and the psalmist. This is how it was expected that the Christ, the promised one, was to be made known to the world. But the actual epiphany is quite different for the magi who appear in Jerusalem seeking the “newborn king of the Jews.” It’s probably a good thing they don’t seem to know the references of Isaiah or Psalm 72 and did not come expecting a warm, jubilant welcome! (At least, we don’t have any indication that they were expecting this.) 

When the magi appear, they pay homage and worship this child that they found in a simple house in Bethlehem, offering their expensive, fine gifts (as was a fitting custom in their time) to this newborn king. But when they were ready to leave, they have to travel a different road home since the way they had come is no longer safe—they had to avoid the king on their return. Indeed, quite a trip for them! 

Simply by their presence, these magi shared Epiphany—they let it be known that this child whom they had found by the light of the star, had come into the world not just for those in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but for all people. He was the Promised One, the long-awaited King of the Jews.

And what can we say about our experience of Epiphany today? Do we come looking for the Promised One, the Light of the World as described by the prophet Isaiah or are we open to looking beyond the expected to find the Christ wherever he may be? Are we open to seeking together as did the magi?  Can we, together, risk going a different way than was originally planned? There are so many questions we may ask as we ponder this Gospel… 

Remember, the magi came together, following the star, seeking the Light of the World, the newborn King of the Jews, and they did not leave disappointed.