“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1)
Today’s feast is like a second Christmas but with a slight difference. While we celebrated the birth of the baby Jesus on the 25th of December, we are celebrating today the realization that God was born in human flesh. The key to understanding today’s Gospel passage is to bear in mind that Matthew was writing primarily to a Jewish audience, a people who are quite familiar with today’s first reading where Isaiah speaks of a time that nations shall bring gold and frankincense to Israel.
While Luke presents us with so many details surrounding the birth of Jesus like a journalist, Matthew simply says: “When Jesus was born… wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.” It is interesting to note that this visit of the wise men is found only in Matthew’s Gospel. Who were these wise men and what impact did their visit have to say about the identity of the new born Jesus? How did they know about Jesus and what lessons do we learn from them?
1. Who Were They?
The only information Matthew provides is the fact that they were from the East and that they knew how to read the stars. As we say in pidgin: “wetin concern agbero with overload?” The implication of this visit is that Jesus was not born simply for the Jewish nation. Jesus is born as Saviour of the whole World. Secondly, it reveals that Isaiah’s prophecy as contained in our first reading today had just happened: a light has risen from Israel attracting the whole world.
I feel sad when I hear people tell us Africans that Christianity is a white-man’s-religion, a symbol of colonialism or a form of oppression. To say such would be implying that Jesus came only to save the white race. From the wise men’s visit, we can see that God had us in mind from the very moment of Jesus’ birth. This is exactly what St. Paul teaches us in today’s second reading. We are not strangers to the Christian faith, we are “fellow heirs, members of the same body and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus.”
2. What led them to Jesus?
The wise men did not have the privilege of having an Angel appear to them like the case of Zechariah or Mary, they probably had no knowledge of the prophets. A star captured their attention and they clearly were able to understand that this star was an indication of the birth of a KING. Not just that, the star seemed to have suggested the need to go and see this newly born King.
The star itself is another Epiphany as it reveals that Mary’s child is a King. Indeed, He is the King of kings; a King whose coming among men cannot be ignored; a king whose very presence requires the necessary adoration and movement of all other kings. This was why Herod was greatly disturbed at the news of the birth of this particular king.
On the other hand, the fact that the star led the wise men to move from their homes reveals that nature is vocal, nature speaks; nature tells us of the wonder of God the creator. The wise men were wise enough to understand that the star was not god to be worshipped, but a voice that spoke of God. Never make the mistake of being deceived by this passage into all kinds of idol worship, palm reading, fortune telling and so on.
3. What Went Wrong?
The wise men upon getting to the land of Israel assumed there is no better place to find the new King than in the Palace of Herod. That mistake would cost the heads of many children in Israel. Despite being terrified at the news of another king, Herod was wise enough to consult the chief priests and scribes regarding the Christ (the long-awaited Messiah). Herod even helped the wise men by telling them to go to Bethlehem to search for the child, but he did so with a wrong motive.
This experience teaches us that, one, not all that glitters is gold. Two, God works in mysterious ways. The palace may seem attractive yet it may not be God’s plan for us. Three, not all those who smile with us mean well for us. Four, in moments of difficulty and anxiety, we can find light by reading the Bible just like Herod who consulted the chief priests and scribes when he was troubled.
4. What did they Bring?
The wise men upon seeing the child FELL DOWN and WORSHIPPED HIM. This very act is another Epiphany; the wise men didn’t just come to say ‘hello’, these men who were obviously not Jews worshipped the child as God. Every time we come before Jesus, we are supposed to do exactly what the wise men did. The wise men are called wise because they worshipped God in the child Jesus. No wonder the psalmist says: “only a fool will say there is no God.” (Psalm 14:1, 53:1)
Lastly, the wise men brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. This is again another Epiphany; a revelation of the identity of Jesus as KING, PRIEST AND SAVIOUR of the world. Jesus had not even started to talk or walk when this happened yet it is clear to the whole world that He is God in human flesh. He rules as King with gold, He sanctifies as a Priest with incense (which we still use today at mass) and as Saviour of mankind, Jesus’ body would be preserved with myrrh when he offers his life for our salvation.
The wise men gave gifts to Jesus because they recognized His Divinity, His Kingship and His Sacrificial role for mankind. The question is: “what kind of gifts do I render to Jesus? And what do my gifts say about Jesus?” Indeed, the best gift we can offer to Jesus today is the gift of a righteous life, a pure heart and hands willing to do God’s commands. Make your life an epiphany to the world.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, fill me with light, deepen my love for you and use me to bring the world out of darkness to worship you. Amen.
Bible Study: Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72, Ephesians 3:2-6 and Matthew 2:1-12).