EPIPHANY 2013 Matthew 2:1-12 January 6, 2013 Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
EPIPHANY 2013 Matthew 2:1-12
January 6, 2013
Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
In his book, The Meaning of Revelation, the famous convert Richard Niebuhr likens revelation to a moment when we are reading a “difficult book, seeking to follow a complicated argument, and we come across a luminous sentence from which we can go forward and backward and so attain understanding of the whole” argument (1941, p.68). Thus at one moment, a truth becomes clear, I get it, and we reinterpret our past and rethink our way forward in light of it.
At Epiphany we suddenly comprehend an intuitive realization, a spiritual flash that can change one’s view. St. Paul in today’s reading contrasts the revelation given to him while such insight is not granted to others.
…the mystery was made known to me by revelation.
It was not made known to people in other generations….
Contrasts make evident the changes that occur. “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.” The wise men starkly contrast with King Herod. The term “Magi” implies an Eastern origin; it means sages and wise men, “zealous observers of justice and virtue, investigators of heavenly phenomenon who searched in nature to come to the knowledge of the truth. They may have come from Arabia, a place that seems likely because of the gifts they bring and because Jews at that time lived there.
Herod contrasts with these wise men. He is a native, himself a Jew. He rules in Jerusalem; he is cunning. In two years, Herod will order the death of infants; he is not an observer of justice and virtue.
When the Magi ask this: “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” King Herod is frightened, and all Jerusalem with him. From his counselors, Herod learns that the child will be born in Bethlehem. So Herod tells the Magi, “Go to Bethlehem and strive earnestly to find the child, and when you have found him return to tell me, that I too may go to worship him.” The wise men earnestly seek Jesus the Christ; King Herod earnestly seeks to kill whoever might claims Herod’s throne. The Magi starkly contrast with Herod.
The city of Barrow, in the State of Alaska, lies above the Arctic circle. There the sun sets on November 18; it remains below the horizon, and it does not rise for over two months. On January 24, the sun does rise, and the entire village emerges from the houses to celebrate its return to view. The prophet Isaiah reminds us of the startling contrast separating the Jewish nation with its divine revelation from those other nations that lack revealed knowledge of God. Isaiah speaks to Israel as if Israel were a person.
Arise, shine, for your light has come,/ and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,/ and thick darkness the peoples;
But the Lord will arise upon you,/ and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,/ and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
This passage from the Hebrew scripture and from Isaiah jumps off the page in light of Christ’s coming among us. In contrast to the religious darkness that envelopes the nations, the religious revelation of one true God enlightens the Jewish nation. In contrast to a God of justice and might, we embrace God among us, the incarnate Son of God.
A further contrast emerges. Although this light, Jesus Christ, has come to Israel, this light is not for Israel alone. “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” Throughout the Old Testament, God has used foreigners, outsiders, women, the least expected and sometimes unsavory characters to fulfill God’s will. By this contrast, we recognize revelation both for Israel and for other nations. God has always been the universal sovereign over all humanity, and from the beginning, intended to bless all the families of the earth through the covenant with Abraham. In Jesus Christ, God’s promise that Israel will be a light to the nations is fulfilled.
The Magi have come from a distance to worship the King of the Jews; they fall on their knees and add homage due to a sovereign and a God. Would they have come such a distance to pay homage to a mere human, a baby, who in no way concerned them? Thus the Magi find in the child something more than human. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh suggest that these Magi honor a superhuman being. Incense for ages was reserved for the Divinity, and it was always offered sparingly. The Hebrews added an offering of incense to all their sacrifices, except the sacrifice for sin. They burned incense twice a day in the sanctuary on the Altar of Incense. The Magi thus honor Christ with a glory that suggests Him to partake of the godly.
Although the Scribes and Pharisees reject Jesus as the Messiah, calling finally for His crucifixion, we find the Apostles and the disciples hailing Jesus as the Christ. If the Sanhedrin denied Him calling for the Kingdom to come, crowds hailed St. Peter speaking of the resurrected Lord.
In our own day, believers contrast with non-believers, religious people contrast with secularists. The public stance holds that religious consideration should be excluded from civil affairs and from public education. In contrast, our prayer, our offering of our daily life at the time of the Mass signifies our embrace of Jesus Christ. We embrace the light shining in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Amen.