FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD (2020)
Readings:Isaiah 60:1-6Psalms 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-13Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6Matthew 2:1-12
Most people wouldn’t think of setting up their Manger Scene for Christmas without carefully placing the Three Kings who come from afar (some wait until January 6th to place them but that hardly gives them any time in the sun during the Christmas season!). Mathew doesn’t even tell us there are only three, we just assume that from the gifts he mentions (what king would show up to the new King’s place without a gift!?). Regardless of how many there were, or how far they traveled, the Three Kings have been part of the fabric of our Christmases since we can remember, and part of the Church’s celebration since the combined infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke were written. Today they are part of our celebration of the Epiphany, God’s “manifestation” of His Son to the entire world. Aside from the angels, the welcoming party for Jesus, the Christ, was hardly noteworthy – dirty shepherds and nasty Gentiles.
The first reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah tries to set us off in the right direction, and is especially noteworthy during this particularly dark time in our nation’s history, for it does seem that “darkness covers the earth, and thick (very thick) clouds cover the people.” Isaiah spoke to a people for whom the glass was half empty. Yes, they had finally been released to return to their homeland, but much of it had been destroyed, and some of them had become rather complacent about adopting a Babylonian view of things. Isaiah wanted the Israelites to focus on what was important: “upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears His glory.” If they focus on the light of God that shines through their return, then they too will become radiant, and “your heart shall throb and overflow” (the actual word used for throb and overflow is “enlarged,” which makes many at this time think of the Grinch whose heart “enlarged” when he ‘finally saw the light’). It’s what we pray for at the Easter Vigil when the Paschal Candle is carried in procession into the Church – we pray to become other lights (like those multiplying through the darkened church) that people and nations will be drawn to us.
The three kings of Matthew are a fulfillment of the nations bringing riches and wealth, “bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord.” The kings, more like astrologers, recognized in a star that “the newborn king of the Jews” had been born, something one would think the Jewish leaders should have been able to note. Instead, the privilege is given to sincere Gentiles, pagans, and not even the intrigue introduced by Herod could prevent them from making sure they laid their eyes on that precious king.
The kings of Matthew are all the more interesting when we remember that Matthew’s Gospel was written to a Jewish audience. Whether the narrative is appended or original, it is clear that the early church was primed to pick up the message delivered so eloquently by Paul in our second reading: “that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” The light that is Christ, shared often in a dark and stormy world, is a light that is meant for all peoples. We rejoice today and everyday, and our heart enlarges to the point of shedding our “mirrored” light on all people, a light which does not originate with us, but comes from the Lord of Light who is Jesus. May we be as resolute as the kings were when they started their arduous journey to let our lights shine for others, so that the praise and glory, the tributes and gifts, be not given to us, but be given to the King of Glory whose birth we celebrate this Christmas season.