In our celebration of the Epiphany, two interwoven themes are present in the readings today. God is beginning something new, and God gathers all of humanity to participate. For Isaiah, God’s bright light, manifested in the people of Israel, attracts and summons people from many nations to Jerusalem. In the letter to the Ephesians, God’s grace makes the Gentiles co-heirs and co-partners in the gospel. Matthew tells the story of the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel through the birth of Jesus, and simultaneously leading foreigners to share in these same promises. With the birth of Jesus, God chose a particular people, in a particular time and place, to enter most directly into the human story. Today’s readings teach that God did this in order to gather all people, all cultures, into unity with God. Like the magi, we are drawn into a journey toward God, becoming co-partners in God’s work.
JOURNEY OF TRANSFORMATION
Tradition, poetry, and literature have long reflected upon the story of the magi. The journey of the magi indeed resonates with journeys in our own lives. The journey is a search for a “king,” for what or who is of primary importance in life. The seekers lose direction and encounter obstacles and dangers. Searching for a king, the magi first come upon a false king, Herod. The reappearance of the star shows them the true path and leads to the true king.
For Matthew, the journey culminates in the magi’s worship of Jesus. They discover a king not clothed in grandeur, but wrapped in humility and simplicity. They begin to re-imagine what true royal power really is. Transformed by the journey, they embrace the humble king, Jesus.
INSIDERS AND OUTSIDERS
An epiphany is a manifestation, a revelation of what was hidden, and often a challenge to change. For Matthew’s community, the story of the magi challenged these new Christians, from both Jewish and Gentile origin. The insiders, those rooted in the Jewish scriptures and traditions, might be uncomfortable with the magi, and with God working within Gentile culture to draw them toward God. The outsiders, the Gentiles, would rejoice that God calls them from within their own roots. But they knew that they too were called to their own journey of transformation.
Who are insiders and outsiders today? Some might see strangers as threats to accustomed ways of honoring and serving God. Others might believe that they themselves are too distant, concluding that they cannot be accepted in Christian community, and perhaps tune out God’s activity in their lives. Still others might think that belief in Christ serves as another dividing line between people, preventing them from seeing all persons as God’s children. The story of the Epiphany reminds us that classifying insiders and outsiders is an illusion, a falsehood arising from a separation from God. When we are united with God, we can only see others as sisters and brothers.