The Epiphany of the Lord

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”
When King Herod heard this,
he was greatly troubled,
and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people,
He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea,
for thus it has been written through the prophet:
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”

Then Herod called the magi secretly
and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said,
“Go and search diligently for the child.
When you have found him, bring me word,
that I too may go and do him homage.”
After their audience with the king they set out.
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
Then they opened their treasures
and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country by another way.
(Matthew 2:1-12)

Scripture Study

2:1 Bethlehem of Judea Located about six miles south of Jerusalem. Herod Refers to Herod the Great, who was from the region of Idumea, making him an illegitimate king in the opinions of many Jewish people. Following the death of his father, Antipater, Herod was made king of Judaea by Rome and ruled from 37–4 bc. magi The exact number of wise men (or Magi), their names, and their place of origin are uncertain. Throughout the ancient Near East, the births of extraordinary, savior-type figures were believed to coincide with astral phenomena. When a star (or planet) appeared over Jerusalem, the Magi believed that it heralded the King of the Jews.

2:2 king of the Jews The Jews were already being ruled by a king—Herod. The political climate and traditional association of the Messiah with the house of David made it natural for Jews to assume that the Messiah would be a king. star In the ancient Near East, people considered the movements of particular planets, stars, comets, meteors, and other astrological phenomena to be signs or portents. The reference to a star connects Jesus’ birth with the prophetic oracle in Num 24:17. to do him homage Implies the level of respect that citizens would pay to a king in antiquity.

2:3 he was greatly troubled To Herod, the magi’s question indicates a potential rival to his throne. all Jerusalem with him The city’s residents knew of Herod’s violence and were frightened at the prospect of further trouble. His slaughter of children (Matt 2:16) shows that their fear is justified.

2:4 Assembling all the chief priests Herod is not demonstrating piety or respect for the priests in this instance; they functioned as his own cabinet and body of advisers. He requires their expertise to determine the Messiah’s birthplace. scribes of the people Refers to trained interpreters of the law of Moses. They likely debated among themselves before giving Herod their answer; many competing messianic expectations existed at this time. where the Messiah was to be born Herod’s actions do not demonstrate a hopeful anticipation concerning the coming of the Messiah; rather, he knows that anyone claiming to be the Messiah will be a threat to his rule. Most likely, he fears that someone will use the child as a figurehead in a military uprising.

2:6 are by no means least Matthew’s reading of Mic 5:2 reflects neither the original Hebrew nor the Septuagint (Greek) translation. However, it is likely that multiple Greek translations were available at this time. Additionally, Matthew may have made his own translation, quoting from memory or paraphrasing. Despite the variations in the text, the sense is the same: Bethlehem’s importance comes from its connection to David and the Davidic Messiah. who is to shepherd Ancient Near Eastern rulers often are portrayed as shepherds. The same imagery is used throughout the OT (see Ezek 34:23; Jer 23:1–4; John 10:1–42).

2:7 called the magi secretly All of Jerusalem had already heard of the magi’s arrival. Herod keeps their specific mission to Bethlehem secret and probably also orders the priests and scribes to do the same. the time of the star’s appearance Indicates that time had already passed since Jesus’ birth.

2:8 when you have found him, bring me word The magi likely came to Herod expecting to find the child in his palace.

2:9 preceded them This unusual activity demonstrates that the star is a supernatural phenomenon.

2:10 They were overjoyed at seeing the star Their reaction implies that the star had disappeared previously and had only now reappeared (perhaps due to the inability to view stars during the daytime). They also were joyful because the star’s stopping place indicated the Messiah’s location.

2:11 They prostrated themselves and did him homage. This was a common custom in the ancient Near East for honoring kings, who were viewed as divine figures. gold, frankincense and myrrh These were costly luxury items suitable as gifts for the birth of an important or royal figure.

2:12 having been warned Matthew does not identify the warning’s origin. Throughout his narrative, he commonly ascribes dreams to God and His emissaries.

Scripture Reflection

A number of Church Fathers marveled over the faith of the magi, who through human eyes see only an ordinary child in Bethlehem but by faith see so much more. They fall down and worship God in human flesh and offer him gifts of gold for his kingship, frankincense for his divinity, and myrrh for his humanity.

This is the type of response we should have even today when we meet Jesus in the Eucharist. Though with the eyes of our bodies we see what appears to be only bread, with the eyes of faith we know it to be the very body of our Lord. The Council of Trent mentions the magi’s worship of the Christ child as a model for our adoring him in the Eucharist: “For in this sacrament we believe that the same God is present whom the eternal Father brought into the world. It is the same God whom the Magi fell down and worshipped.”

We, like the magi, can show Jesus great reverence when we kneel before his Real Presence in the Eucharist. We too can bring him gifts, perhaps not gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but the gifts of our hearts in praise and thanksgiving, which would be, according to St. Gregory Nazianzen, great “spiritual gifts, more sublime than those which can be seen with eyes.”

– Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.