The Manifestation of Christ to Humanity 

Epiphany Year C

Matthew 2: 1 12

Introduction

Many of us still, instinctively, when we hear the Magi, think of magic. We find it strange for a small band of astrologers to give us an explanation of the meaning of Jesus’ birth. These men, whoever they were, however many in their group, bestow gifts on the Christ child, and rightly so. But St Matthew was inspired to include this account, to bring perhaps an even greater gift to the Church yet-to-be-born — the gift of understanding the importance to the world of the birth of Jesus.

Notes On Our Text

Verses 1 and 2

Our story begins when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in the Province of Judea during the days of Herod the Great.

  • Bethlehem is a small town about 8 kilometres (5 miles) from Jerusalem.

  • Judea (called the Land of Judah in the O.T.) was the name of the Roman Province.

  • Herod, a part Jew, was a puppet King under the Romans. Around B C 40 he was given the title, King of the Jews, and with it, extended authority, which he used to torture and slaughter any who got in his way.

A short time after Jesus was born, a group of Magi arrived in Jerusalem. The Magi were not sorcerers but astrologers from Persia. As such they claimed to predict future events or interpret present events, by studying the stars and planets. In Christian tradition they became identified as “wise men” (sometimes even as 3 Kings).

In our text the Magi were determined to find the young Jesus and ask around Jerusalem “Where is the new-born King of the Jews?”

Verse 3

This sends a cold shrill up Herod’s spine and he (and many hangers-on) become profoundly disturbed. And not without reason since the question implies that the baby will in due time by right, become the King of the Jews.

The pathetic Herod feels threatened. His days are numbered. He has already murdered his favourite wife and 2 sons. He would use anyone or any deception to prolong his cruel and evil rule.

Verses 4 – 6

Herod is shrewd enough to know that these learned and wealthy Persians would not be seeking anyone less than the Messiah himself. He therefore asks his advisers where the Messiah would be born. They all agree — “In Bethlehem of Judea”, and quote Scripture in support of their claim. The coming ruler is (literally) to be a shepherd, emphasising the Biblical understanding of leadership as one of guiding, protecting, providing.

Verses 7 and 8

Next Herod calls the Magi to a secret meeting and seeks knowledge about their search. He does a deal with them. They have his approval to canvass Bethlehem but on finding the child, they must provide Herod with the details. The Magi, at least initially, believe his words, that he wants to pay homage to the child.

Verses 9 and 10

Somehow, the combination of the magi’s science and local inquiries helped them locate where the child was.

Note that the text of this Gospel does not say the rising star led the Magi to Jerusalem, nor did it point to the house at Bethlehem. We must not let modern media entertainment mislead us as we discern the true message of this magnificent little episode.

Verse 11

On entering the house they found the child with Mary his mother. They paid their respects, homage rather than worship, as we understand it.  They offered him gifts such as gold, frankincense, and myrrh: the most expensive products in their home country.

The Son of God having been revealed first to Mary and Joseph, two humble and poor Jews, is now revealed to representatives of the learned and rich non-Jews, the Gentiles.

Verses 12 and 13

The Magi have achieved the goal of their amazing expedition. As suddenly as they appear in the New Testament, they now disappear: fortunately having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod.

Conclusion

St Matthew is at pains to demonstrate God’s care for those who live beyond the accepted boundaries of religious practice. Those who follow even faint and imperfect signs can be led to discover Jesus Christ.

The experience of the Magi helped the infant Church to understand the meaning of Jesus’ birth, and therefore the role of the Church, as a beacon of light and hope.

In this account the Magi through their natural science discover by faith what Herod and the religious authorities of Judaism miss, despite their possession of “the Scriptures”.

We had better be careful not to make the same error. Christians are inclined to map out a course they expect others to follow, and give little latitude to God our Creator to provide his personalised path for chosen souls. The inner call to seek Jesus is always from God yet we seem bent on pressuring others, especially those close to us, to pursue the course we set them on.

We excuse ourselves, as we believe it is “for their good”. But this hampers our own spiritual maturity, and allows us to overlook the first essential — to demonstrate in our own lives that we have “put on Christ”.

The 6th of January, the “Twelfth day of Christmas”, is one of the most ancient celebrations of Christians.

It is called, the Epiphany, or manifestation of Christ to all humanity. It affirms universal salvation and remains one of the highpoints in the Christian calendar. May it encourage us to share and manifest our faith not by compulsion and emotional pressure but by open and honest living out Christ’s example and teaching. In fact we have no choice in the matter. If we claim to be Christian, we are required to manifest Christ to the world. Fortunately it is something within the reach of every member of Christ’s Body, the Church.

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