The Season of Epiphany
We are now in the liturgical season of Epiphany having entered it last Friday on what some traditions call Three Kings Day. It marks the visit of the “magi from the east” and the presentation of the three gifts to baby Jesus.
It is a story that I have come to appreciate. Part of the reason may be because it has taken on a life of its own and how we see it portrayed has evolved a bit from how the gospel writer Matthew details it. There are three gifts but we are not told how many magi. (In some Eastern traditions the traditional number is twelve, not three.) And they are referred to as magi – maybe better thought of as wise persons and not kings. And considering timing references in the account scholars tell us that the visit probably occurred months after Jesus was born and not at the manger.
But the main reason I find this event so interesting is because of the uniqueness of the visit. It is a bit like Melchizedek’s visit with Abram. Both encounters have cryptic dignified figures who make a passing appearance in scripture but impart an important, even a theologically critical, symbolism to the person being visited.
It is also interesting how this is the central piece of Matthew’s birth narrative. All the other details, except the birth in Bethlehem, we get from Luke’s Gospel. And while Luke’s story has an angel announce Jesus as the Messiah, the gifts of the magi symbolize the three-fold role of Jesus as prophet, priest and king.
So as interesting as those details are, there are three points that I ultimately value from this narrative.
First, the magi were foreigners. They were drawn to Jesus by a star that God had placed in the sky to lead them there. Are we open to either being led by God in our faith or to receiving the stranger who God has led to us?
Second, the magi brought a message that challenged the status quo. They told Herod, the then- reigning king of the Jews that there was another king. I doubt the magi could have foreseen either the disturbance this caused Harod “and all Jerusalem with him,” or the horrible consequences of Herod trying to hold onto power this would cause in the following slaughter of the innocents.
Finally, God did not leave them at Jesus’ cradle and was faithful to these foreigners. God guided them through a dream and they returned to their country taking the experience with them. Having met Jesus, where is God sending each of us out into the world?
So a happy season of Epiphany to all of you, and may we each, in our own way, be “wise people” as we seek and respond to meeting Jesus.
Elder Steve Salyards