The Feast of the Epiphany

Today Catholics in the United States celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, the moment the three wise men had an epiphany, a moment of realizing the truth about God.

Here is the gospel reading for today from Matthew 2: 2-12:

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”
When King Herod heard this,
he was greatly troubled,
and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people,
He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea,
for thus it has been written through the prophet:
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod called the magi secretly
and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said,
“Go and search diligently for the child.
When you have found him, bring me word,
that I too may go and do him homage.”
After their audience with the king they set out.
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
Then they opened their treasures
and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country by another way.

If you’ve been a catholic most of your life, you may recall the story of the three wise men and think, “Yes I know this one, everybody knows this story!”

But no matter how many times you’ve read or heard this gospel, you can always learn something new. You can always have an epiphany yourself!

For instance, it wasn’t just Herod the Great who was “greatly troubled.” It was “all of Jerusalem.”

When King Herod heard this,
he was greatly troubled,
and all Jerusalem with him.

We know why King Herod was troubled by this news; He was not the rightful heir to the throne of David so many Jews hated him as a usurper. If Jesus was an heir, trouble would arise. Also, Herod was ruthless, and because of his many enemies, he was supicious that someone would try to overthrow him. Herod would not want the Jews to unite around a religious figure.

So why would all of Jerusalem be greatly troubled? According to the Life Application Study Bible commentary: When Jesus was born into the world, people immediately began to react. His presence did not soothe and comfort most people; instead, it startled and disturbed them. In some he awakened spiritual longings; in others, fear and insecurity.

It seems that Jesus’ birth had quite the effect on the people around him, even when he was just a newborn. By the time the three wise men probably met Jesus, it was most likely a year or two after his birth. A trip on camel or on foot back then would have taken a long time. Most people would like to think they arrived just moments after his birth but actually, Jesus was probably 1 or 2 years old at the time.

Another interesting point is that Herod tells the wise men: When you have found him, bring me word,
that I too may go and do him homage.

We know this was not true. Herod was a ruthless leader who was threatened by the birth of this King. He had no intention of worshiping Christ. He wanted this king dead so he could remain in power. In fact, he took no chances and ordered all baby boys in Bethlehem killed.

Luckily, as we see from Matthew’s gospel, having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country by another way.

The wise men did not give word to Herod and managed to avoid an encounter with him. They had an epiphany, and changed direction.

Fit in your Faith Today: How can you learn something new from the story of the 3 wise men and apply it to your own life? Is there a King Herod in your life who is threatened by your faith in God? Have you been warned by someone or something to avoid a ruthless person from entering your life? Did you have an epiphany recently that caused you to change direction in your own life? Take some time to reflect on some of these points and look at the story of the 3 wise men from a different direction.

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