Epiphany is the great feast of the three wise men from the east who followed a star to find the newborn king of the Jews and pay him homage.
They are magi, which basically means a group of astrologers. Magi is the plural of the Latin word “magus,” which has to do with the science of studying the stars, traditionally known as “Astrology.” We get the English word “magic” from “Magi.”
St. Matthew does not give us the names of these wise men, nor are we told how many there are and that they are kings. These kinds of things come to us through Sacred Tradition. It is Sacred Tradition that provides us with many insights into the meaning of Biblical events that are not verbalized specifically in the Bible.
One such insight is what I am interested in talking about today. In today’s Divine Office readings, we hear that “the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding” and “today you reveal to men of faith the resplendent fact of the Word made flesh.”
Two facts: The revelation of God becoming man, and the recognition of this event being a wedding; namely, the marriage of divinity with humanity. Once God commits to taking on a human nature through the second Person of the Holy Trinity, it is once and for all, and can never be broken. Thus, a wedding of two natures.
It’s very difficult to think about Christmas in terms of a wedding, and for many good reasons. But a wedding it is. And without recognizing the significance of the marriage of God and man in the nativity scene, you don’t have the fullness of Christmas.
I personally love the gift giving component of Christmas. I don’t even really mind how seemingly out of hand gift giving has become at Christmas time. I certainly would rather have an exaggeration of gift giving than for it to go away entirely. Gift giving is a central component of Christmas, and not because of Santa Claus or St. Nicholas giving gifts to children. In my view, it’s because of the gifts brought to the child Jesus by the wise men.
And their gifts are quite extravagant to any outsider looking in. What is a baby to do with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh? I guess Joseph can sell the gold and they will no longer be in poverty. And maybe burn the frankincense in the home for a nice fragrance. And I guess you could use the myrrh on cuts and bruises.
I think we all know that these gifts are symbolic of what the Child in the stable represents. Gold because He’s a king, frankincense and myrrh because He is divine (both traditionally used in religious worship).
But these gifts of the Magi are not because a baby was born. They are not baby shower gifts. They are wedding gifts because of the significance of “who” this baby is by nature, and what he is to accomplish because of this wedding day. They are appropriate gifts for giving homage to the one true king and divinity. Why else would they prostrate themselves before the Child? This is an action done in worship only.
The magi have an insight to what has happened that those without faith cannot see. A wedding has taken place, the greatest of weddings. A marriage that will last forever, and will accomplish the greatest gift of all.
They recognize this event through their study of the stars. They recognize the star as being the sign of the newborn king of the Jews. They set out with the specific purpose of giving him homage.
So what did the newborn king of the Jews mean to these men of the east? Why such a journey to pay such homage? Because they were aware that they birth of the king of the Jews was the Christ, the saviour of the world.
King Herod had this same faith. He knew one day the Christ would be born. He acts sincerely interested in paying homage too, but only uses the magi for information.
But Herod misses the significance of Christ’s birth. He sees it as a child who will grow up to dethrone him.
The magi understand the fullness of Christ’s birth, and why His birth is a wedding, and why it is right for them to journey so far to celebrate. No more is God way up there and man alone down here. God and man are united in communion via the incarnation, and the Christ child will one day marry His bride, the Church on the cross, for the salvation of the world.
The union of God and man is a permanent one. This is by definition what marriage is, two becoming one. But this marriage does not end at death in this world, like marriage between two human beings. This marriage of the divine and human nature in the Person of Christ goes on forever.
God loves us so much that He became man so man could become like God. It’s love that unites. It’s love that makes Christmas so special. And it’s the presentation of gifts that symbolizes the gift of union with the ones we love.
Christ is the Prince of Peace. His mission is the restoration of peace between God and man. It is the gift available to all of us at Christmas, and all year round.
Ultimately, we all must journey to Bethlehem following the star every Christmas asking as the magi did, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” What gift do you have to present to the Christ Child at this royal wedding?