Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
Ephesians 3.2-3a, 5-6
Most of us are so familiar with the nativity picture as displayed in the crib scenes in our churches and homes that it is easy to miss the specific significance of the various parts that make it up. From the first chapter of the prophet Isaiah we have the ox and the ass – which in their original context offer a challenge to those who fail to recognise the God who is present to them. Luke gives us the stable and also the shepherds, with the Old Testament echoes of David the shepherd king and pointing to Jeremiah and Ezekiel and the promise that God will be the shepherd of God’s people, as well as the actual shepherds themselves who represent Luke’s concern for marginalised people. And then Matthew gives us the star and the magi associated with today’s feast. Once we take account of Matthew’s contribution, we no longer have a domestic, local scene, but we are invited to see the intimate picture of Bethlehem in a far greater frame. The magi are pagans, exotic people from the ends of the earth, they come with lavish gifts having mystical significance, they put the birth in a bigger and global context and their talk of King of the Jews directly points to the role of the newborn. The presence of the star makes the setting even greater, for the cosmos itself acknowledges this birth as unique. Matthew gives us extra dimensions to the nativity story – a global and a cosmological one – and that is what today’s feast invites us to contemplate. The magi are people who have had a revelation – without any previous understanding they recognise who it is they are seeking. The irony is that those who have the long tradition of revelation and understanding – the priests and scribes in Jerusalem – and who know precisely where to look, are content to stay where they are and so miss the greatest event in history!