The Epiphany of the Lord
- First Reading ‡ Isaiah 60:1-6
The glory of the Lord shines upon you.
- Responsorial ‡ Psalm 71:1-2.7-8.10-13
Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
- Second Reading ‡ Ephesians 3:2-3.5-6
The revelation means that pagans now share the same inheritance, that they are parts of the same body.
- Gospel ‡ Matthew 2:1-12
We have come from the East to worship the king.
When we come to this feast of the Epiphany, we bring with it a whole bunch of different expectations and ideas. We’ve had the Magi journeying across the sanctuary during the week. And finally we add them now to the Nativity scene.
That’s bringing together two completely separate and different stories. We have the story told in the Gospel of Luke, where Joseph and Mary are living up in Galilee, and they make their journey down temporarily to Bethlehem, where they give birth to Jesus and all of that happens there in the stable or outside of the allotted accommodation.
The Gospel of Matthew tells a very different, completely different story. Joseph and Mary are already living in Bethlehem, living in a house that they’ve already settled. There’s no census and no need for the long journey because that’s where they live, and so when the wise men – the magi – are coming to search for them, they don’t have to try and find them in an inn. They’re able to find them in the house that they’re already living in. Note the shepherds aren’t there; there’s no animals; no straw or hay. We conflate these two stories and try and mesh and mash them together. But no, they’re two different stories, and we shouldn’t try and bring them together.
They weren’t staying there in the hay for a period of several years waiting for the wise men to turn up. These are two stories. We need to treat each of them separately. In the Gospel of Matthew, it’s interesting that during the first chapter which begins with the genealogy of Jesus, going through the 42 generations from the time of Abraham to the time of Jesus, and then we get the story of the birth of Jesus, the announcement that Mary is pregnant.
During that whole period, it’s simply the narrator who speaks. The only other voice that we hear is the voice of the Angel telling Joseph to do what is right: that Mary has conceived the child within her, not through another man, but through the Holy Spirit. And so he should accept the child as his own. And he does this without saying a single word.
The first word that we hear spoken by a human person, a human character, in the Gospel of Matthew is the one that we hear today. And it’s by one of these Magi, as they come seeking the Lord, and the question is: Where do we find the Christ? Where do we find the newborn king of the Jewish people or the people of Judah? And it’s interesting that the first word is given not to a good and faithful Jew, but to one of the outsiders.
There is one of those who are coming from as far away and as stranger, and a strange situation, as a Jewish person could imagine and understand. This incredible sense of separation and differences is what the Magi represent. They are probably Persian. They had this long tradition of being the astrologers, people that would look into the stars to be able to discern the movements and so be able to interpret them; to be able to understand what that impact would have upon human affairs.
The wise men are here, but at least they bring their knowledge in order to try and make sense of it. And they asked that question. That’s a good question. Where is the king to be born? Where shall we find him? And of course, how many wise men are there? You know, we just number them three because simply the gifts are three. The story doesn’t tell us that detail. There’s no mention that they’re kings. There’s no mention of any camels.
All these details we add from our Christmas carols. They aren’t proper to be added. It’s much better to take our time, to go back to the source, to go back to the gospel, to go back to the pondering of what is this story inviting us into? We have the voice then of King Herod. The voice of the one who says look, I want to go and pay him homage, just as we’ve seen so many weaselly and snaky kind of characters over the pages of the Hebrew scriptures. People that claim these big games, but they don’t follow through. They’re not actually true to their word, and we know that King Herod doesn’t intend to worship. He intends to kill. That’s the way that that he operates. It’s the way that he’s wired and situated. So finally the wise men are able to discover where the Christ child is – where the Holy Family are living at this point and they go.
And what is the first thing they do? They are filled with joy and delight. They fall down on their knees and worship. That’s ultimately the invitation of this feast. They then offer their gifts. They offer the best of who they are. They offer gifts that are appropriate for the Lord. They offer him the gold that is appropriate for a king. They offer him the incense that is appropriate in his role as a priest, one who stands in the place of God, one who is there, pointing people to God. And the myrrh that is offered when a person is preparing to die to embalm the body to make sure that the stench of decomposition isn’t overwhelming.
And so, all these gifts offered are about their worship and surrender. And that’s what this feast is inviting us into. It’s the one thing that every single one of us is able to offer – there’s nothing that can ever prevent us from worshipping our God, and that’s where our lives are changed. It’s in that moment of surrender. It’s in that moment when we acknowledge that I can’t do this myself. I can’t keep trying to just do more things myself in my own strength. There comes a point when I need to surrender, give up, acknowledge and admit that, “Lord, you’ve got this because I haven’t.” I can’t do this under my own steam, under my own strength. And so Lord, I surrender it to you, I offer my heart, I offer my life to you, I offer the best of my gifts to you Lord.
Do what you will with this gift. You can complete it, in order to fulfil it. In order to establish the deepest longings and desires of my life, and it’s in that moment when every Eucharist we’re able to offer ourselves when we’re able to bring our own lives and to. Offer them here on the altar. That’s why we, you know, we gather for the Eucharist because it’s as we worship, and as we surrender ourselves, that that’s when the bread and the wine had changed and transformed to become the body and blood of our. It’s in our offering of worship. It’s in our sacrifice that we offer to the Lord that the priest’s offering is also able to be changed and transformed. It was just my offering, it was just what the priest does myself. That’s pretty useless and pretty pointless.
The church invites all of us not just to watch or to see what’s. Running, but to be an active and conscious participant in this sacrifice to offer our worship, to offer that surrender in order that our God might be glorified, but in order also that we might be changed, we’re told this little detail at the end of the story today that the wise men have to go back by a different way because they’ve been changed. And transformed by this encounter, they’re no longer the people that were seeking at the beginning of the gospel.
They now need to acknowledge the change that has happened and for us. Also, it’s good to go back by a different way. To go back. By the scenic way to go via a longer way to go in a way that doesn’t seem to make sense in terms of the. But it makes sense in terms of our spirit that when we’re changed by God’s love when we encounter him when we surrender, when we worship that we become a different people and we need to acknowledge that by a different way. On our way home. So let’s continue to pray that our worship might be changed and transformed, that we might continue. We surrender to God that we might bring the best of our lives and offer them to the Lord today.