Today we celebrate Epiphany and, of course, this is where we look at the story of the magi coming to offer Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh to Jesus
You may not know that I take a bit of vacation during the Christmas season, the reason is because the Epiphany story is used in each of the three liturgical years. It is only found in Matthew so it is the same Gospel. The story is so fascinating that I update my homily but I build on the same homily every year. The message is too important to ignore.
The story of the epiphany is a coded explanation of the whole Gospel and the story of the Law and the Prophets. If you want to say, show me some truth that any of the prophecies from the Old Testament came true at all, Matthew would tell you this story. It becomes this cute Christmas narrative but once you look more deeply you see it is a profound message of the meaning of everything we do here.
You begin by seeing there are these wise men from the East. If you want to make an easy twenty-five dollars at a simple bet, do not answer with the number three how many wise men there are in the Gospel of Matthew. He never mentions a number, it is by tradition that we have the number three. He never says how many there actually were.
They are Zoroastrians, and therefore the description of them as astrologers is not wrong. The problem is astrology is forbidden by the First Commandment, so why would Matthew include these pagans in this reading. Simple, He is demonstrating that a powerful prediction by the prophets has come true. Remember, the old testament prophet predicted that there would come a time that all the world would worship the God of the Jews in Jerusalem. Here Matthew is indicating that this time is upon it. He is showing that this time has been fulfilled. Remember, Jesus comes at the fulness of time and here it is.
They followed the stars. Now they would read the stars like you would read a newspaper. They read this to mean that a new king was coming to the Jews.
So they travel to find him and give him homage. Remember, that means the time predicted in the Old Testament has arrived. It is a powerful message from Matthew.
They arrive and contact Herod the Great one of the most vicious dictators in the history of the Earth. They inform him that they read the stars to indicate that a new king has arrived to the Jews. You have read enough of life in the world to know that in some cultures that news is never welcome with joy. He calls his men who search the scriptures and discover that a new king is coming. However, notice what the scriptures say, he is coming to bring unity to all humanity, to bring salvation to all the Earth. This means nothing to Herod, he only cares about his own power and glory. So he tells them to return the same way so they can inform him where this new king may be.
He, literally, stands up in opposition to God himself.
The Magi visit Jesus and then after receiving a dream return to their homeland by another route.
This becomes a significant message and is one of the key messages of all four gospels. No one is ever the same once they encounter Jesus for better or for ill. In fact, we can extrapolate this further. No one Our world has never been the same since the time of Jesus.
Now let’s look at another message here.
We know that Herod upon realizing that magi were not coming back decides he is going to kill all the children in Bethlehem under two years of age.
This begins a simple message that we will from this point right to the end of the New Testament. There will be a battle between the forces of the world and the forces of God and this battle is on.
We are still in the midst of this battle even today.
Everything in this story sets the stage for the same messages we will see in the story of Jesus and beyond.
How do we deal with this?
We have been called at our baptism to be Christ’s representatives, which means that we do not stand up against governments but we stand up against those forces that enslave and dehumanize others in the form of sin. Jesus came to save us from them.
However, there is something else. Those who align themselves with the forces that enslave do not know what they are doing. Do you think Herod would have done what he did if he understood he was fighting God himself? How about the Pharisees and even Pilate. Probably not.
Jesus gives the shot across the bow, not to people but as St. Paul says principalities and powers, spiritual forces seeking the destruction of humanity.
Our message is that the one who frees us from these powers has arrived to save us. We need to invite others to know him.
If you look at everything we are dealing with today as a spiritual battle too then you will recognize Matthew’s message. Powerful things are happening and the more we understand this, the more we will know the truth that will set us free.
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