Throughout the Christmas season, we celebrate the Incarnation. God is made present in the person of Jesus, the baby born among the animals, whose birth was heralded by angels singing hymns of glory. In today’s Gospel, we find the juxtaposition of the great and the small again. It is no surprise that in searching for the “newborn king of the Jews” the Magi from the east would first travel to the most important city in Israel and then to the very dwelling of the king. Within the court of King Herod, which was known for its decadence, the Magi likely found all of the trappings of wealth and power one would expect from royalty, but they did not find the king they sought.
The chief priests and scribes sent the Magi to Bethlehem where the star which had guided them along their journey “stopped over the place where the child was.” In a simple house in a small village, they come face-to-face with Emmanuel — God-with-us. Immediately, the Magi bowed down in worship before presenting their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In the figures of the Magi, the revelation of Jesus, the light of the world, is brought to the people outside of the land of Israel.
Their way of coming to this moment has been different from their Jewish counterparts. While angels proclaim Jesus’ birth to Mary, Joseph and the shepherds in the fields, creation itself proclaims the good news to the Magi in the form of the star that they follow.
Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus will turn to his closest disciples and ask them, “Who do you say that I am?” (16:15). In today’s readings, we find many answers to this question. Jesus is the light by which nations shall walk, as prophesied by Isaiah. He is Lord of both the Jews and the Gentiles as Paul writes to the community in Ephesus. And he is the humble child in a home in Bethlehem who will soon have to flee all he has ever known to seek shelter and safety in a foreign country.
As Christians, we are called to proclaim the life of Christ, not only in our words but also in our actions. In studying the Gospels, we find that Jesus’ 33 years on Earth contain many paradoxes. The Son of God lives most of his life in the backwater town of Nazareth where he is known as “the carpenter’s son” (13:55).
Proclaimed as Messiah and Lord by the angels at his birth, the only crown Jesus ever wears is the crown of thorns given to him by his tormentors before his execution. In order to proclaim Christ truly, we must be comfortable with both his perfect humility and his supreme glory.
The word epiphany in common parlance means a sudden revelation or stroke of insight that usually catches one unaware. In today’s Gospel, we could deduce many different epiphanies. Herod comes to the sudden (and troubling) realization that he is not the sole, or even the most important king in Israel. The Magi discover the light of the world at home with his mother in Bethlehem. Mary most likelyreceived another affirmation of her marvelous child’s identity.
Each Christmas season we are introduced to this child anew, the God of creation in the vulnerable guise of a newborn child, the one who is Emmanuel. In the year to come, how will we proclaim this child to all we meet? Perhaps we will have the opportunity to bring his light to places of darkness. Perhaps we will recognize him in the faces of the ones our society has cast aside. Perhaps in our ventures into the great outdoors, creation itself will bring us new insight into our Creator God.
If we are attentive, we will find that every moment of our lives our God is longing to reveal Godself to us.
Peace, Fr. Kevin