January 8, 2023: The Epiphany of the Lord
Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
We are more alike than different. Take the shepherds we met in last Sunday’s Gospel and the magi encountered in the Gospel of this Sunday.
The differences couldn’t be more obvious. The shepherds lived outside day and night. Roughly clad, probably dirty. It’s doubtful they were well educated and certain they were not men of financial means. When they heard the news of the angel they consulted only one another and, seemingly with confidence, set off for Bethlehem.
Now, let’s look at the magi. Over the centuries the magi have been described as astronomers, astrologers, teachers, of priestly rank. Yet with all their learning, when the child was difficult to find, the Magi relied, not on themselves, but on another man of prestige and power. They sought our King Herod, King of Judea.
The magi brought gifts fit for a king. After all, they came to meet the King of the Jews. The shepherds presented no gifts to Jesus – at least that we know.
Oh there are differences all right. Yet the magi and the shepherds seem more alike than different in all the ways that matter.
All of these men spent time under the night skies. The movement of stars and planets were familiar to them. Perhaps that is why both the shepherds and magi recognized a new compelling light in the sky. An angel told the shepherds not to be afraid; it was the “glory of the Lord that shone about them.” The magi followed the light of a star that rose in the East. Shepherds and Magi trusted the lights in the sky to lead them to the Light of the Universe.
Magi and shepherds trusted messages sent by the Divine. Hosts of angels revealed to the shepherds the birth of Jesus and how to find them. The Divine warned the Magi in a dream. Trusting that dream the Magi avoided falling into the trap of the wily Herod by changing the route to their homes.
Yes. The shepherds and magi are more alike than different in all the ways that matter. The way that matters most? These men trusted the Creator of heaven and earth to lead them to the Long Awaited One. They trusted what “the angel and a multitude of the heavenly host said: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those with whom God is pleased.”
Take the time to read T.S. Eliot’s poem The Journey of the Magi. You may want to read several times or read it aloud. Enough said.
Your call to read “The Journey of the Magi” is profound and has taken much of my time. I just read that TS Eliot had a few Gin drinks as he wrote the poem. Maybe I should now go have a drink. It is positively speaking inebriating but more sobering to realize that as we follow Christ, we must let go of our old ways in order to try to be spiritually alive today. Such is our Paschal Mystery, birth and death are intertwined. We are Kings & Queens striving to follow the “Star of Wonder!” Enjoy the Feast! Thanks for your reflection.
Thank you, Denise, for the blog and the reminder of this profound poem. The last lines capture me everytime (Actually the entire poem captures me).
“I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our Death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death”
Thanks Denise for your reflections and suggestion to read T S Elliot’s poem. Both were gifts to me.