January 5, 2014 — Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
The Prophet Isaiah lived almost 800 years before the birth of Christ. Yet, he foretold much of what would occur at the birth and shortly after. In today’s magnificent reading from the Book of Isaiah we hear, “Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense and proclaiming the praises of the Lord.”
Midian is located on the eastern shore of the Red Sea in what is now Saudi Arabia. Scholars generally accept the theory that looking at what was once called Arabia, Ephah was in the north, Midian the central area, and Sheba in the south. It is important to note that it is not just a caravan that will come from that area, and those in the caravan will not just be bringing gifts, but they will also be “proclaiming the praises of the Lord.” This reading not only sets the scene for the Magi, but establishes that their true purpose was to come to worship the Christ Child.
The second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, although not long, is rich in meaning and significance. Paul acknowledges and recognizes that he is a steward. He then makes reference to the “mystery” that was made known to him by “revelation.” The term “mystery” is used often within the Church for those concepts we may have difficulty grasping or completely understanding. Our normal use of the word “mystery” may imply something dark and sinister. The “mystery” to which Paul refers is neither dark nor sinister. In Greek the word for mystery is mysterion. It is correctly translated as “a truth not obvious or known to us.” Paul is referring to our salvation through Christ. And Paul makes it clear that this is salvation for all — Jews and Gentiles. Thus this revelation and mystery is directly tied to the Magi, who were, of course, Gentiles.
The Gospel from Matthew recounts the story of the Magi (described as “magi from the east”). It is worth noting that this story appears only in Matthew, nowhere else in the Bible. What is revealed in the story is that their journey was not easy; they went first to a palace to seek the Christ Child, but soon discovered that His origins were much more humble. In spite of those humble surroundings, they approached the Lord with awe and a deep sense of humility, even though our tradition calls them kings.
Of course, they brought the Lord those famous gifts — gold, frankincense, and myrrh — but they brought something much greater than that, something which we as good stewards need to recognize and emulate. These were people of incredible faith. These were people who sought the truth. These were people who did not just seek the Messiah, but they recognized Him in Jesus. They knew He was their Savior; they knew it when He was only a child.
Perhaps they were the first disciples. We know they were good stewards. However, what stewardship calls us to is discipleship. All we hear from Matthew is that rather than returning to Herod, “they departed for their country by another way.”
You may be aware that early Christians called themselves “the Way.” This is most likely the “way” that the Magi followed. It is quite probably the “way” to which we are called as good stewards. Why “the way?” Its goal, our goal, and the goal of the Magi is to be with God.