Gospel Mt 2:1-12
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.
We have been hearing throughout this beautiful season of Christmas about the gift that God has given us – the gift of his only begotten Son, Jesus, as our Savior. Jesus, who is God Incarnate, born as a helpless baby. Today’s Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the public “announcement,” if you will, that the gift of salvation is available to all, not just those of the Israelite covenant with God.
Long before Paul tells the Ephesians in today’s reading that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, the revelation of Jesus Christ is made to the Magi. These Magi were not Jewish, but men from the east – Gentiles – who have traveled to Bethlehem to see the newborn king of the Jews. They were somehow drawn to the gift, and Matthew’s Gospel tells us how they respond.
Their response is a beautiful example of how we ourselves should respond to Jesus – and to any gift that God offers to us. They have the vision to see the star, to follow it a great distance from their homeland and to accept the simple gift that is revealed to them: a humble, simple child who does not radiate the majesty of a king. The Magi are able to see beyond the surface, to see this child for who he is, and without hesitation pay him homage and present him with their gifts. Finally, they are obedient to the voice in their dreams and go home a different way, avoiding Herod.
Matthew’s Gospel also gives us a completely opposite response to this gift, carried out by Herod. King Herod, hearing of the newborn King of the Jews, responds defensively and in great fear. If what the wise men report is true, Herod reasons, he will lose his status and prestige. Rather than see this child as a gift, as the long-promised Messiah, Herod sees him as a threat that needs to be extinguished right away. He responds with deceitful cunning, planning to kill the child once the Magi reveal to him where the child is. Herod closes his heart to the gift of God, the Messiah, wanting to keep his own power and glory.
None of us would claim to want to follow the example of Herod – to close our hearts and minds to God and to resort to killing innocent children to keep our power. Yet, it helps us to think about how open we are to the many gifts that God presents to us throughout our lives – from the rainy morning that greets us upon our awakening; to the family God has placed in our lives; the work we are called to do; and the sufferings we are called to endure. Each of these is, in different ways, a gift from God – some more easily seen as gift than others. We can either reject them as Herod did, or follow the example of the Magi and accept them in humility, trust and obedience.
As we continue our celebration of the Eucharist, we pray for the grace to have the open-heartedness of the Magi throughout the coming year. All is gift from God. With the help of the Holy Spirit, may we greet the expected and unexpected gifts – the obvious gifts and those that are harder to understand – as truly gifts from our loving God. May we see the radiance and glory of Jesus in all we meet in the years ahead, and welcome them into our hearts with joy, reverence and trust.