The Epiphany takes place days after the secular world has already taken down Christmas trees, lights and festive decorations. Radios and stores have stopped playing Christmas songs and the New Year is well underway.
In the Church it is a different story. Christmas carols continue to be sung and the readings still focus on the Christ Child who has been born in a manger. On the Feast of the Epiphany, we celebrate the arrival of the three Wise Men who have arrived from far off lands. They have followed a star that announced the birth of a new king, the King of the Jews. They trusted and believed in this sign, a divine sign, and have left everything in search of this child.
The Christmas Star
The Magi saw a star which appeared at night, so we may speculate that their journey was at night, in the darkness, with only the light of the moon and the stars lighting their way. The appearance of this star acted as their guide, pointing them to their destination. The Magi interpreted its appearance as a divine message—it was God who inspired them to search for Jesus. The star describes the mysterious manner in which God guided the Magi to seek the newborn king of the Jews. They recognized it because their hearts were open to finding something new and extraordinary in the heavens.
The Magi journeyed first to Jerusalem, believing that the King of the Jews must be born in the capital, in the luxurious palace of a king. Instead, they found a deceitful king who tried to manipulate them. The report of this birth aroused feelings of anguish, fear and deep anxiety in Herod. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI states:
Herod is unable to worship because he could not or would not change his own way of looking at things. He did not want to stop worshiping himself, believing that everything revolved around him. He was unable to worship, because his aim was to make others worship him.
Unlike King Herod, the motives of the Magi were pure and their search sincere. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage” (Matthew 2:2). They acted with honesty and with honour, publicly declaring both what they had witnessed and what precise intentions they had: to worship the newborn King and to pay him homage.
Travelling to Bethlehem
The Magi left Jerusalem and continued on their search for the newborn King. As they travelled, “Behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was” (Matthew 2:9).
Eventually their journey would lead them to Bethlehem, following the lead of a prophecy and the guidance of the star. In Bethlehem, they found the baby Jesus lying in a manger, among the animals, with Mary and Joseph watching over him. Shepherds had also found the infant Jesus. They did not follow a star but his birth was announced to them by an angel, who, accompanied by a myriad of other angels, sang a hymn of praise for the birth of the Messiah. The Magi were filled with pure and absolute joy.
The Magi offered the baby Jesus their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Tradition interpreted gold as representing the kingship of Jesus, frankincense, a gift for a priest, represented his divinity since priests burned frankincense in the Temple, and myrrh, a substance used to prepare the dead for burial, symbolized his redemptive suffering. The gifts already speak to us of Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection.
The Magi left Bethlehem to return home by a different way, having been warned by a dream. They left again in the darkness, running to avoid King Herod and his devious ways, but in their hearts, they were led by the light of the new-born Saviour. They returned home transformed.
As Pope Francis states:
Today we are asked to imitate the Magi. They do not debate; they set out. They do not stop to look, but enter the house of Jesus. They do not put themselves at the centre, but bow down before the One who is the centre. They do not remain glued to their plans, but are prepared to take other routes. Their actions reveal a close contact with the Lord, a radical openness to him, a total engagement with him.
Searching for the Christ Child
We all search in the darkness looking to behold the face of Jesus. Oftentimes, his smile can be found in the eyes of the poor, the sick, those in need. Upon their face we can see the light of the Christ Child. Like the Magi, our journeys may be long and difficult, taking wrong turns and encountering devious people. But we must always keep going, searching, trusting that in the end we will find him and be filled with great joy.