Feast of the Epiphany – Year A (January 5th)
Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:2a, 7-8, 10-13
Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
Next Sunday we in this country celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, which continues the celebration of Christmas, with the reflection that the Jesus at whose coming we rejoice means good news, not just to those who already believe (Jews and Christians) but to those who hardly understand what we are saying or know what we are doing.
Look at the first reading for the solemnity. It encourages us to “Rise, shine, for your light has come”, and celebrates the disappearance of the darkness and thick cloud (of which we in the Northern Hemisphere are seeing plenty just now); but the joy is really for others, “Gentiles are going to walk in your light”, the prophet sings, “…the wealth of Gentiles shall come to you”. Then we are given the lovely picture of affluent foreigners who “will carry gold and frankincense [an idea that is echoed, of course, in today’s gospel] and shall proclaim the glory of the Lord”.
The psalm is written for the coronation of a King of Judah, but it too envisages outsiders being welcomed in, “May he rule from Sea to Sea” (from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, in other words), “from the River Euphrates to the ends of the earth [somewhere near Gibraltar, I suppose].” The poet is quite clear about the universality of the message: “All kings shall worship him, all gentiles serve him”. This is not, however, any old imperialism, for this king is reminded that his task is to “rescue the needy, care for the poor and the needy”. This is a message that is to reach all humanity.
The second reading carries on this theme of the universality of the message. In summary, the Ephesians are simply told what it means: “the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fellow-parts-of-the-body, and fellow-sharers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel”.
This truth is then given dramatic expression in the gospel. It starts off in a narrowly Jewish context: “Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the King”. Then the scene shifts to Jerusalem, and the arrival of just the kind of funny foreigners that the previous texts have been talking about. And they ask a most indiscreet question, about “one born King of the Jews”. The question is tactless because there is a King of the Jews, happily reigning, and his name is Herod, and he has a very short way with aspirants to his throne (even butchering several of his sons whom he suspected of plotting to succeed him). Interestingly he and his court clearly believe in this message, or they would not try so hard to find out where the Messiah was to be born. So Herod opts for murder, while these Gentiles make the choice to “worship”, with gold and frankincense and myrrh. While we are still worrying about these simple-minded Magi, and whether they are going to rush back to Herod and blurt out where they found Jesus, they are effortlessly removed from the stage, and “it was by another route that they returned to their country”. Are we, this week, prepared to share the good news of our lately-born Christ with those who do not know about him?