Updated: Jan 25, 2022
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE].
Today, we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ. The word, epiphany means revelation or insight. In today’s liturgical context, it refers to the fact that God sent his Son not only to Israel in fulfillment of prophecy, but to all the nations and peoples, symbolized in today’s Solemnity by the three magi, who offer gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ child. Magi is a reference to a knowledgeable class of certain societies.
Traditionally, the magi were also believed to have been kings. And so, our passage today presents us with a contrast of kings. On the one hand, we have King Herod, who rules over Jerusalem and Judea with the endorsement of the Roman Empire. On the other hand, we have the three magi from the East. Both serve as examples for us.
We’ll begin with Herod. As mentioned, King Herod collaborated with Rome and ruled over Judea and Jerusalem. He had great wealth, power, and influence; and an army to enforce his will. Ironically, even though he was a king, Herod was nevertheless a slave to narcissistic paranoia. Nothing of his reign secured him any sort of lasting peace or happiness. He was a miserable creature, and his misery eventually ruined him and his entire family. He murdered his relatives because he felt that they threatened his rule. And he massacred every boy at Bethlehem less than two years old, out of fear for the Christ child and the unknown future that he represented.
In short, Herod’s kingdom only had room for Herod, and no room for anyone else. He remained a willing prisoner to his own fears; trapped, isolated, and unmoved within his kingdom until his death.
Contrast that with the kings from the East. Some traditions even give us their names: Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar. As kings, they were men of wealth and influence. They each had kingdoms of their own, and had authority over the people in their lands. As magi, they were well respected and educated.
They could see in the stars the Advent of the great prodigy who was to be born. But they weren’t content with mere knowledge of the newborn king. The wanted to greet him at his arrival. That desire overcame the natural preference for their own kingdom. And so, courageously, they left behind their own wealth, and opted rather enter into the poverty of the desert. They abandoned the security and safety of their palaces, and set out for an unknown and perhaps hostile land. In true heroic fashion, they abandoned their prestige and influence as magi, and chose rather to be wandering pilgrims, subject to laws and policies of a foreign land; simply so that they could humble themselves further, by paying homage to the King of Kings.
How different are they from Herod in his palace! Herod and his entourage knew where Christ was to be born. But not one of them bothered to seek him out. For all of their knowledge of the scriptures, there was not one priest or scribe of Israel who made that journey to Bethlehem. Even more tragic, they were afraid of the Christ child. They were afraid of a baby.
This contrast between kings gives us an example of a radical humility which leads to true liberation and freedom of heart, and an example of fear which leads to isolation and a living death. We know which example we’re called to follow: the magi from the East.
But ultimately, it’s the example of Christ we’re invited to follow. Unknown to them at the time, the kings were already becoming like the Lord whom they would adore. Jesus, before them, emptied himself, and descended from the kingdom of heaven, in order to seek each one of us out, in his great mercy. He left behind him his wealth, power, and prestige. He entered into this hostile land, trusting in the will of the Father. He entered into the isolation of death, for our salvation.
Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. We celebrate the Christ Child’s first appearance to the gentiles, represented here by three magi. That ancient event required both God and king to leave behind their kingdoms. Today, we’re called to the same.
We’re invited into a new pilgrimage of faith as we begin this new year. That may require us to go beyond our comfort zone and leave behind whatever wealth or influence we think we might have. We’re called to leave behind our possessions, if they hold us back from seeking Christ. We must be willing to abandon whatever palace we’ve established, if Jesus Christ is waiting for us in a stable. We’re called to lay aside our authority if it stops us from being humble and obedient to the living God.
Through the grace of the Mass, may God give us that radical humility that leads us beyond each of our respective kingdoms, and journey towards that future that lets us see the face of God.