Feast of the Epiphany (Matthew 2:1-12)
This great feast evokes and inspires so many different things in so many different people. The sight of these strange strangers at the crib has given rise to so many attempts to fill in the details of who these magoi / magi / wise men / astronomers / astrologers / scientists were. Yet the Gospel of Matthew refuses to divulge any details except those that are essential to the story. But the speculations continue. So we imagine that if they come from the East, then the most likely candidate country would be from the empire of Babylon, since they have the history and expertise in the field of studying stars and constellations.
If that is the case, then the Magi would have been travelling for at least 40 days, since it is about 1300kms from Babylon to Jerusalem, and even in a caravan of camels, you could only travel around 30-35kms a day. Thankfully the journey from Jerusalem to the house that the holy family were now staying in would have only taken a few hours – it is only 10km from Jerusalem south to Bethlehem. So we don’t know when they actually arrived in Bethlehem. Had they been travelling for a month before the birth of Jesus, so that they would arrive only a few days later (as in the tradition of the twelfth day which celebrates Epiphany on 6 January) or did they arrive much later? Such questions are cute, but clearly are not theologically central to the story.
These foreigners came to ‘pay homage’ to this new king. Now that is strange all by itself. Why did they travel to find a new king? Did they do this for other kings? Had they travelled to pay homage to their own king? Were they king groupies?
One thing that is clear, is these magi come to pay homage (to worship) this new king of Israel because they know that there will be something different about the way that he will be king. He wont be like their own king, and certainly will not be like Herod the tyrant or Caesar Augustus, who maintain the peace of their kingdoms through military might, intimidation and fear. These magi travel because in a sense they have to travel. They have to see with their own eyes what birth gives rise to this sign in the heavens. So they come, as foreigners and aliens, following the star.
They seem to know that this new king will not be a ruler only for one single nation. They seem to know that when they come to him, they will worship before their own ruler and their new king. The kingship of Jesus will not be limited to a single nation – but in fact Israel will be called to finally take on-board her full call and identity when God had first made covenant with her. Jesus is not just the king of this one people – but he is the king of all who desire to come and worship; of all who are prepared to lay their gifts and lives before the manger and become the children of God.
Surely this is one of the reasons that a star is the sign that leads these magi in pursuit of the truth? Because even in our world, a star can never be the possession of a single nation (no, not even yours Obama). A star is always meant for all nations – all people can look to the heavens to see this sign. And the Lord Jesus will be a sign for all people. For all who look to him and worship can become sons and daughters of God, and therefore citizens not of a single nation, but of the family of God’s people. And this is the great hope of Epiphany…
Recorded at Sacred Heart, 9.30am (12’41”)