This is the 12th and final day of the season of Christmas. While in the Roman Church it closes the season of Christmas, Epiphany in the Eastern Orthodox Church it is their Christmas Day. Epiphany means ‘revelation’ and the feast celebrates God’s first public revelation of Jesus. It is symbolically enacted in the crib before our altar – in addition to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and some animals, including a baby rabbit, the figures of the three Magi are kneeling in homage before the Infant Jesus.
In the cultural world of Jesus, Magi were a caste of very high ranking political-religious advisers to the rulers of the modern countries of Iran and Iraq. “As part of their religion, they paid particular attention to the stars and gained an international reputation for astrology, which was at that time highly regarded as a science. Their religious practices and use of astrology caused derivatives of the term Magi to be applied to the occult in general and led to the English term magic. Although the Magi are commonly referred to as “kings,” there is nothing in the account from the Gospel of Matthew that implies that they were rulers of any kind.“(source; Wikipedia) . They were Magi and had enormous influence as advisers to Eastern kings.
The story of the Magi is found only in St Matthew’s Gospel. He describes how they found their way to Jesus by following a star and then worshipped him as the new-born King of Judea. At first glance they appear to have ‘discovered’ Jesus by their own craft. However, St Matthew describes that they were led to him – led by a star, under God’s control. They ‘followed the star wherever it went’, as the carol relates.
Up to this point, the birth of Jesus had been a private event, known only to Mary, Joseph and a handful of shepherds. The Magi emerge from outside this small circle and represent the first of many others who will be led to faith in Jesus. So in the story of our salvation, therefore, this is God’s first public revelation of Jesus. And the pattern of God’s continuing revelation of Jesus to us is always the same as the with the Magi – the initiative lies with God and the human response is to follow where God leads.
Regarding your personal faith in Jesus, who was the star or person or even event that God used to bring you to join the Magi in worshipping the Christ Child of Bethlehem? For many of us, it will have been parents and grandparents that God first used in this way; and later in life there may have been – and continue to be – others whom God has used to inspire and sustain us in our belief.
Perhaps we might take the opportunity in this Mass to remember these important people in our lives, to give thanks for their love, support and the values they handed on to us, and to ask God to help us to follow their example?
Holy Name, Jesmond
6 January 2019