Most of the parents may have sweet memories of taking your child to Christmas Mass and kneeling at the manger and telling them stories. You and your child might have marveled at the peaceful manger scene. Most of the time, baby Jesus has his arms reaching out as if to embrace everyone in the world. That image sums up perfectly the meaning of His Epiphany - manifestation, or “shining upon” the earth. The three wise men from the East knelt at the manger and marveled at baby Jesus. God made visible/revealed to humanity.
The wise men are from the East, but from where in the East. There are three predictions about the place. Some predict that they are from Persia; some others say they are from Babylon. The third prediction is from Arabia. Today’s first reading from the book of Isaiah gives us more approval from the third prediction which is Arabia. In the first reading, we read, “Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.” Matthew is looking at the prophecy of Isaiah which tells us about the non-Israelites bringing gifts to the Lord. In Responsorial Psalm 72, today we read that “The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts; the kings of Arabia and Sheba shall bring tribute. All kings shall pay him homage, all nations shall serve him.”
In the first reading, the light of Isaiah proclaimed to Zion symbolizes the blessing to come to her: the glory of the Lord, the return of her children, the wealth of nations who themselves will walk by her light. If we want to understand the meaning of this passage, we need to look at the background of this passage. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians 57 years before Christ. Fifty years later, the Persians conquered the Babylonians, and they allowed the Jews to return home. They found their city and homeland was ruined and rebuilding was extremely difficult. The prophet was giving them encouragement and telling them that Jerusalem will become the center of spirituality and light of the world.
As Christians, we understand Jerusalem and Zion to refer now to the Church, which is the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrew 12:22). Isaiah prophesied that when the light shines upon them, all the nations will be attracted. When we read this passage for Epiphany, we can see the Magi followed the star and came to adore the Newborn King.
In the Gospel magi came to King Herod in search of the newborn King, Jesus. Herod reigned from 37 to 4 B.C. Magi were the priestly caste and they were astrologers. It was a common ancient belief that a new star appeared at the time of a ruler’s birth. Matthew also draws upon the Old Testament story of Balaam, who had prophesied that “A star shall advance from Jacob” (Numbers 24:17). The Magi were not members of the Chosen Jewish People, so the Epiphany today shows Jesus came for all people. The Magi shows us that there is no substitute for an open heart and mind. For Herod, this message about the Newborn King brought fear. He closed his mind and heart towards Jesus, but he pretended to show that he was eager to see him.
The identity of Christ is revealed to different people in different times: First prophets told in general about the coming of Messiah. Then in an intimate way told Mary and Joseph, then to shepherd and magi and later to John the Baptist and then to the disciples. The shepherds represent the poor and ignorant, and the magi represent pagan believers and intellectuals. The Good News is for everyone. God revealed himself to each one of us. The mission of the Church is to make Christ known to all nations (Matthew 28:19).