Thứ Bảy, 7 tháng 1, 2017

JANUARY 09, 2017 : THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD

The Epiphany of the Lord
Lectionary: 20

Reading 1IS 60:1-6
Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come,
the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples;
but upon you the LORD shines,
and over you appears his glory.
Nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance.
Raise your eyes and look about;
they all gather and come to you:
your sons come from afar,
and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.

Then you shall be radiant at what you see,
your heart shall throb and overflow,
for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you,
the wealth of nations shall be brought to you.
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.

Responsorial PsalmPS 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13
R. (cf. 11) Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
O God, with your judgment endow the king,
and with your justice, the king's son;
He shall govern your people with justice
and your afflicted ones with judgment.
R. Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
Justice shall flower in his days,
and profound peace, till the moon be no more.
May he rule from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
R. Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts;
the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute.
All kings shall pay him homage,
all nations shall serve him.
R. Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,
and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;
the lives of the poor he shall save.
R. Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.

Reading 2EPH 3:2-3A, 5-6
Brothers and sisters:
You have heard of the stewardship of God's grace 
that was given to me for your benefit, 
namely, that the mystery was made known to me by revelation.
It was not made known to people in other generations 
as it has now been revealed
to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: 
that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body,
and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

AlleluiaMT 2:2
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

GospelMT 2:1-12
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.


Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord 

Note: Where a Scripture text is underlined in the body of this discussion, it is recommended that the reader look up and read that passage. 

Opening Prayer 

Holy and generous God, in your great love you have revealed yourself in creation. But you have done even more – you have revealed yourself in your Son, our Lord Jesus. By believing in and following Him, we are led to eternal life with you. Help us not to be like King Herod, who, threatened by your revelation, tried to kill Jesus. Help us to be like the magi so that when we see your revelation, we will be filled with delight. We make our prayer in the name of Jesus the Christ, our Lord.  Amen. 

Introduction 

Epiphany means revelation or manifestation. Epiphany was originally an Eastern Church celebration. It was originally and primarily a celebration of baptism, the first Epiphany or manifestation. As the celebration moved westward, it took on the meaning of the revelation of Jesus to the Gentiles. The central point of this celebration is that God’s salvation is intended not only for the people of Israel, but for all people. 

Epiphany is now celebrated as the 12th day of Christmas and its celebration seems to predate the celebration of Christmas itself. The Greek word “epiphany”, meaning manifestation or appearance was used most often in ancient times to describe the king or ruler “showing himself” before the people of the nation. During epiphany we see how God epiphanies Himself through Jesus. It is the people of God empowered with the gifts of the Holy Spirit who reveal the risen Christ to the world through acts of creation, love, healing, and liberation. We of the Church are called to be an ever-unfolding epiphany of God’s love and power to the dark world seeking desperately for such epiphanies. 

The 12th night is a familiar title of a Shakespearian play and comes from European heritage where 12th night parish parties are (or were) celebrated. These parties have carried over into the Mardi Gras tradition. During the party, at the appointed time, the king cake is brought out. Hidden in the cake are three beans or coins. Those who find the “prizes” are crowned kings or queens for the evening. While the “royalty” are being outfitted for their office, the Christmas tree is stripped of all ornaments (German Lutherans call this “plundering the tree”). The tree is removed from the room and saved for the Lenten season when it is stripped of its branches and made into a processional cross. 

Tradition also celebrates the arrival of the wise men at this time.

1st Reading - Isaiah 60:1-6

Today’s Old Testament reading is one of Isaiah’s “Songs of the First Return” which are a lyrical description of the new Jerusalem as Israel is gathered from different places and restored. 

1    Rise up in splendor! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.

An extraordinary illumination, as though God were, by His presence in the city, radiating a dazzling light [see Deuteronomy 33:2, Malachi 4:1 (3:19 in NAB & NJB) where fiery love (the fire of judgment and refining) is described]. Like a sunrise, darkness immediately surrenders to the brilliant light, there is neither dawn nor dusk. [Verses 1-3 have been seen by some commentators as the source of Revelation 12]. 

2    See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; But upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory. 3 Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. 4 Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: Your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.

Literally, verse 4d reads “your daughters are carried on the hips of their nurses.” 

5 Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow, For the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you, the wealth of nations shall be brought to you. 6 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. 

Those who are from Midian, Ephah, and Sheba are all descendants of Abraham (Genesis 25:1-4). God’s chosen people who were scattered long ago now come to participate in their ancient inheritance promised by God’s covenant with Abraham. One day all nations will become God’s children (Romans 4:17; 8:16-17). 

2nd Reading - Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6

Our second reading was written while Paul was in prison (verses 4:1; 6:20). “Prisoner” is a title of honor, a distinction that the preacher has gained for having borne witness to the truth. It is the mark of a true apostle (2 Corinthians 11:23; 6:4-5; Luke 21:12). 

2 [Y]ou have heard 

A possible indication that some readers did not know Paul directly 

of the stewardship

A ministry; not a task, but a realization of God’s plan 

of God’s grace that was given to me for your benefit, 

God’s favor was shown to Paul not for himself but for others.      

3 (namely, that) the mystery was made known to me by revelation. 5 [It] was not made known to human beings in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, 6 that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 

The Jews are God’s chosen people, his family. The Gentiles are now part of this family which forms the new Israel and shares in the inheritance (Romans 8:16-17). 

Gospel - Matthew 2:1-12

Today’s Gospel reading has been called “The Worship of the Magi”. Matthew and Luke both have accounts of the conception and birth of Jesus and some of the incidents that followed the birth. Neither Mark nor John address this period in Jesus’ life. Matthew’s version is greatly affected by the use of Old Testament texts. The magi seek a king, and Herod consults the religious experts of Judaism to find out where they should look. Of this there is no doubt, they should look not in Jerusalem, but in Bethlehem – the city of David. 

1 When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod,

Four different Herods are mentioned in the New Testament. The first is Herod the Great, referred to in this passage and the next; the second is his son, Herod Antiapas, who had John the Baptist beheaded (Matthew 14:1-12) and who abused our Lord during His Passion (Luke 23:7-11); the third, Herod Agrippa I, a nephew of Herod the Great, who executed the apostle James the Greater (Acts 12:1-3), imprisoned Peter (Acts 12:4-7), and died suddenly and mysteriously (Acts 12:20-23). The fourth, Herod Agrippa II, was Herod Agrippa I’s son – it was before him that Paul answered Jewish accusations when he was a prisoner in Caesarea (Acts 23:23). Herod the Great, who appears here, was the son of non-Jewish (Arab) parents. He came to power with the aid of and as a vassal of the Romans, particularly Marc Antony (see Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 14.13.1’324-326). He was a consummate politician and among other things he rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem on a lavish scale. Herod the Great had a persecution complex; everywhere he saw rivals to his throne. He was notorious for his cruelty: he killed over half of his 10 wives, some of his children, and many people of standing. He died in 4 BC.

behold, magi

Wise men, astrologers. Originally the term designated the learned priestly caste of the Persians; later it came to mean anyone skilled in occult knowledge and power (magicians), or a charlatan or trickster. The word is not used in an abusive or derogatory sense here by Matthew and the mention of the star shows that they are wise men who study the stars (astrologers). Nothing else is said about them. Since they are not Jews, they can be considered to be the very first gentiles to receive the call to salvation in Christ. 

from the east arrived in Jerusalem, 

This suggests Mesopotamia, the home of astrology in the Greek (Hellenistic) world. 

2 saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? 
The Jews had made known throughout the East their hope of a Messiah. The wise men knew of this expected Messiah, king of the Jews. According to ideas widely accepted at the time, this sort of person, because of his significance in world history, would have a star connected with his birth (Numbers 24:17-19, which many of the Church fathers have interpreted as messianic prophecy, but it is not quoted in the New Testament). 

We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

When the leader gets stirred up, the populace gets agitated too; especially with the reputation which Herod had. In all Jewish circles at the time of Jesus, the hope was widespread that the Messiah would come soon. The general idea was that he would be a king, like a new and even greater David. Herod’s worry is therefore all the more understandable: he governed the Jews with the aid of the Romans and cruelly and jealously guarded his crown. Due to his political ambition and lack of a religious sense, Herod saw a potential messiah-king as a dangerous rival to his own worldly power. 

4 Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people,

In the time of Jesus, both Herod’s monarchy and the occupying Romans recognized the Sanhedrin as the representative body of the Jewish people. The Sanhedrin was, therefore, the nation’s supreme council which ruled on day-to-day affairs, both religious and civil. Following Exodus 24:1-9 and Numbers 11:16, the Sanhedrin was composed of 70 members presided over by the high priest. The members were elected from three groupings: 
1)    The chief priests, that is, the leaders of the principal priestly families; it was these families who appointed the high priest (the chief priests also included anybody who had formerly held the high priesthood). 
2)    The elders, or leaders of the most important families. 
3)    The scribes, who were teachers of the Law or experts in legal and religious matters – the majority of these scribes were Pharisees. 

In this passage, only the 1st and 3rd groups are mentioned. This is understandable since the elders would have no authority in the matter of the birth of the Messiah – a purely religious question. 

he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: 6 ‘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.’”

Quotes Micah 5:2 (Micah 5:1 in NAB & NJB). It is worth noting that Jewish tradition interpreted this prophecy as predicting the Messiah’s exact place of birth and as referring to a particular person. The prophesies of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Jesus the Christ. The text quoted here is not a direct quotation from either the Hebrew or Greek texts but is colored by 2 Samuel 5:2, the offer of kingship to David made by the elders of Israel.

7    Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.

Looks forward to verses 13-23 when the male children born around this time will be slain 

8    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.”

Not to adore Him, but to dispose of Him. Such was Herod’s exclusively political view of things. 

9    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. 10 They were overjoyed at seeing the star, 11 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.

The prophets and the psalmists foretold that the kings of the earth would pay homage to God at the time of the Messiah (Isaiah 49:23). They would offer him their treasures (Isaiah 60:5-6) and adore Him (Psalm 72:10-15). Through the action of these wise men, these prophecies begin to be fulfilled; although there is no indication that these wise men were kings or emissaries of kings. The gifts offered were those most valued in the East and have symbolic meanings: 
•    Gold - A symbol of royalty and Jesus’ kingship 
•    Frankincense - A symbol of Jesus’ divine priesthood 
•    Myrrh - A burial spice and symbol of Jesus’ death to redeem us. 

12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

The involvement of the wise men ends with an act of obedience and cooperation with God’s plan. 

Notice that throughout this story, nowhere is it stated how many magi there were. In later Christian tradition they became known as kings (in fulfillment of the prophecy) and their number was settled at three; deduced from the number of gifts. Eventually, they were named Caspar, Balthasar and Melchior in the Western Church, and Caspar became a black. They were understood as representatives of the Gentile world in all its racial diversity who come to Christ.   




Meditation: "They fell down and worshiped Jesus"
If Jesus truly is who he claims to be, the eternal Son of God and Savior of the world, then why is he not recognized by everyone who hears his word and sees his works? John the Evangelist states that when Jesus came into the world the world knew him not and his own people received him not (John 1:10-11). Jesus was born in obscurity. Only the lowly shepherds recognized him at his birth. Some wise men also found their way to Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn King of Israel. These men were not Israelites, but foreigners. They likely had read and discussed the Messianic prophecies and were anxious to see when this Messianic King would appear. God led them by means of an extraordinary star across the desert to the little town of Bethlehem where Jesus was born.
John Chrysostom (347-407), in his homily on this passage from Matthew 2, explains the significance of the star of Bethlehem:
"Note how fitting was the order of events: the wise men saw the star, were received by the Jews and their king; they heard prophecy to explain what had appeared; the angel instructed them; and then they journeyed from Jerusalem to Bethlehem by the guidance of the star. From all this we learn that this was not an ordinary star, for no other star has this capacity to guide, not merely to move but to beckon, to “go before them,” drawing and guiding them along their way. The star remained after bringing them to the place, in order that the child might also be seen. For there is nothing conspicuous about the place. The inn was ordinary. The mother was not celebrated or notable. The star was needed to manifest and illumine the lowly place, until they had reached their destination at the manger." [The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 7:3]
In their thirst for knowledge of God, the wise men from the East willingly left everything, their home and country, in pursuit of that quest. In their diligent search they were led to the source of true knowledge - to Jesus Christ, the Light and Wisdom of God. When they found the newborn King they humbly worshiped him and gave him gifts fitting for a king.
The Lord of the universe who revealed the star of Bethlehem to the Gentiles of the East so they could come and worship Jesus, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) and King of Kings (Revelations 19:16), gives each one of us the same light of revelation to recognize and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to us. It is through the help of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and opens the eyes of the mind, that we are able to understand, accept, and believe the truth which God has revealed to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. In faith, the human will and intellect cooperate with grace. "Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace" (Thomas Aquinas).
To know and to encounter Jesus Christ is to know God personally. In the encounter of the wise men with Jesus we see the plan of God to give his only Son as King and Savior, not just for the Jewish people but for all the nations as well. The Lord Jesus came that both Jew and Gentile might find true and lasting peace with God.  Let us pray today that Jew and Gentile alike will find the Lord and Savior on their journey of life. Do you bring the light of Jesus Christ to those you meet through the witness of your life and testimony?
"Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you for bringing salvation to all the nations. May the gospel of salvation be proclaimed to every nation today and to every person on the face of the earth.  Help me to be a good witness of the joy of the gospel to all I meet."
Daily Quote from the early church fathersThe glory of Christ's divinity is revealed, by Chromatius (died 406 AD)
"Let us now observe how glorious was the dignity that attended the King after his birth, after the magi in their journey remained obedient to the star. For immediately the magi fell to their knees and adored the one born as Lord. There in his very cradle they venerated him with offerings of gifts, though Jesus was merely a whimpering infant. They perceived one thing with the eyes of their bodies but another with the eyes of the mind. The lowliness of the body he assumed was discerned, but the glory of his divinity is now made manifest. A boy he is, but it is God who is adored. How inexpressible is the mystery of his divine honor! The invisible and eternal nature did not hesitate to take on the weaknesses of the flesh on our behalf. The Son of God, who is God of the universe, is born a human being in the flesh. He permits himself to be placed in a manger, and the heavens are within the manger. He is kept in a cradle, a cradle that the world cannot hold. He is heard in the voice of a crying infant. This is the same one for whose voice the whole world would tremble in the hour of his passion. Thus he is the One, the God of glory and the Lord of majesty, whom as a tiny infant the magi recognize. It is he who while a child was truly God and King eternal. To him Isaiah pointed, saying, 'For a boy has been born to you; a son has been given to you, a son whose empire has been forged on his shoulders (Isaiah 9:6).'" (excerpt from TRACTATE ON MATTHEW 5:1)
[Note: Chromatius was an early Christian scholar and bishop of Aquileia, Italy. He was a close friend of John Chrysostom and Jerome. He died in 406 AD. Jerome described him as a "most learned and most holy man."]

SOLEMNITY OF THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD
SUNDAY, JANUARY 8, MATTHEW 2:1-12

(Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6)

KEY VERSE: "We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage" (v 2).
TO KNOW: Matthew wrote his gospel to a Jewish audience to show that Jesus was the fulfillment of their longings for a Messiah (see genealogy, Mt 1:1-17). He also wanted to show that God's salvation would reach "to the end of the earth" (Is 49:6). Matthew communicated this intention by having gentiles (Greek, ethnos) coming to visit the Holy Family in Bethlehem. These "wise men" (Greek: magi) are thought to have been astrologers of the Zoroastrian religion. They believed that a new star signaled the birth of a ruler. They followed the star to Jerusalem where they asked King Herod the Great where they could find the newborn king of the Jews because they "observed his star at its rising" (Nm 24:17). Herod's advisors told him that the prophet Micah foretold the birth of a Messiah in Bethlehem, the birthplace of David where he was also anointed king (Mi 5:2). Fearing that this child would be a threat to his throne, Herod sent the magi to search for the newborn king on the pretense of offering him homage. The star illuminated the way to the Christ child and Mary his mother. The magi offered the child Jesus gifts that signified his kingship (gold), priesthood (frankincense) and his saving death (myrrh, used in anointing the dead). The magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they returned "by another way" (v 12). We are all invited to discover the Lord through the different journeys of faith we undertake; however, after encountering Christ we cannot return to our old ways. We must travel in a different direction--the path that leads to Jesus.
TO LOVE: What are the gifts that I can offer the Lord?
TO SERVE: Lord Jesus, help me to seek you in all I do.

NOTE: The word "epiphany" means a manifestation or an appearance of a supernatural being. Because the magi brought three gifts, legend made them "three kings," and they were given the names of Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. 

Sunday 8 January 2017

Sun 8th. Epiphany. Isaiah 60:1-6. Lord, every nation on earth will adore you—Ps 71(72):1-2, 7-8, 10-13. Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6. Matthew 2:1-12.

Readings

'They returned ... by a different way.'

The Magi are usually referred to as the Three Wise Men, men of great learning. They set out to follow a rising star applying their knowledge of astronomy, geography and the writings of the prophets. However their meeting with King Herod shows that they possessed wisdom as well. Sensing his intentions to harm the child and taking from a dream the wise advice not to report his whereabouts, they returned along a different route.
Today we are reminded not to allow shallow advice or the mere facts of the 'Google Age' to influence our wise judgement. In many of life's situations it is more important to be intuitive than knowledgeable, thoughtful than impulsive, prayerful than boastful and trusting of our own instincts rather than 'following the herd'.
Let us pray for the wisdom to take a different way if our discernment directs it.


ST. APOLLINARIS

St. Apollinaris was one of the first great martyrs of the church.  He was made Bishop of Ravenna by St. Peter. The miracles he conducted in Ravenna soon attracted official attention, for they and his preaching won many converts to the faith. However, at the same time, his words and works brought upon the fury of the pagan people who beat Apollinaris cruelly on several occasions.
During one beating, Apollinaris was cut with knives, and scalding hot water poured over his wounds, then put on a ship to be sent to Greece. 
In Greece the same course of preachings, and miracles, and sufferings continued. In fact, after a cruel beating by Greek pagans, he was sent back to Italy.
When Emperor Vespasian issued a decree of banishment against the Christians, Apollinaris was kept hidden for some time, but as he was leaving, passing through the gates of the city, he was attacked and savagely beaten.  He lived for seven days, foretelling that the persecutions would increase, but that the Church would ultimately triumph.

LECTIO DIVINA: EPIPHANY OF THE LORD
Lectio Divina: 
 Friday, January 6, 2017
The Magi’s journey of faith
The adoration of the child Jesus as King and Lord
Matthew 2: 1-12

1. Opening prayer

Merciful Father, you have called me to meet you in this word of the Gospel, because you wish that I may have life, you wish to give me yourself. Send, I pray you, your Holy Spirit upon me so that I may let myself be led along the holy way of this passage of Scripture. May I, today, get out of my prison to set out on a journey to seek you. May I recognise the star that you have lit as a sign of your love on my journey to follow it tirelessly, intensely, committing my whole life. May I, finally, enter your house and there see the Lord; may I bend low humbly before you to adore you and offer my life to you, all that I am and all that I have. Lord, by your grace, may I return by a new route, without ever passing through the old paths of sin.
2. Reading
a) Placing the passage in its context:
This passage belongs to the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, which constitute a kind of prologue to the whole work. Here we are presented with the historical origin of the Messiah as son of David, as well as his divine origin as Jesus Christ, God-with-us. Matthew immediately leads us into a very deep and engaging meditation, placing before us a precise choice through the persons he introduces in his story: we either recognise and welcome the Lord who is just born, or we remain indifferent even to wanting to eliminate him, kill him. This passage offers us the beautiful story of the journey of the Magi, who come from afar because they want to seek and welcome, love and adore the Lord Jesus. But their long journey and tireless search, the conversion of their heart are facts that speak of us, facts already written on the scroll of our own sacred story.
b) An aid to the reading of the passage:
The passage may be divided into two main parts, determined by the locality where the scenes take place: the first part (2: 1-9a) takes place in Jerusalem, whereas the second part is focussed around Bethlehem (2: 9b-12).
Mt 2: 1-2: The passage begins with precise indications as to the place and time of the birth of Jesus: in Bethlehem of Judea, at the time of king Herod. Within this quite specific description, the Magi suddenly appear, who, coming from afar, arrive in Jerusalem under the guidance of a star. It is they who announce the birth of the Lord king. They ask where they might find him because they wish to adore him.
Mt 2: 3-6: On hearing the words of the Magi, king Herod, and with him all of Jerusalem is disturbed and afraid. Rather than welcoming the Lord and opting for him, they seek to eliminate him. Herod calls the authorities of the Jewish people and the experts in Scripture. It is they, by the help of ancient prophecies, who speak and reveal Bethlehem as the place to find the Messiah.
Mt 2: 7-8: Herod calls the Magi in secret because he wants to use them for his own evil ends. His detailed interest is entirely directed towards the elimination of Christ.
Mt 2: 9a: The Magi, urged by strength of faith and led by the star, leave again and go towards Bethlehem.
Mt 2: 9b-11: The star reappears, moves with the Magi and leads them to the exact spot where the Lord Jesus is. Full of joy, they enter the house and prostrate themselves; they offer precious gifts because they recognise that he is king and Lord.
Mt 2: 12: When they have contemplated and adored the Lord, the Magi receive a revelation from God; it is He who speaks to them. They are new men; they have in them a new heaven and a new earth. They are free of the deceits of Herod and, therefore, they go back to their lives by an entirely new way
c) The text:
1 After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, suddenly some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east 2 asking, 'Where is the infant king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.'
3 When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. 4 He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, 'At Bethlehem in Judaea, for this is what the prophet wrote: 6 And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means the least among the leaders of Judah, for from you will come a leader who will shepherd my people Israel.'
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared 8 and sent them on to Bethlehem with the words, 'Go and find out all about the child, and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.' 9 Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And suddenly the star they had seen rising went forward and halted over the place where the child was. 10 The sight of the star filled them with delight, 11 and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.
12 But they were given a warning in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
I listen deeply to the silent voice of the Lord and let the breath of the Spirit come to me and infuse me. In this silence I seek the Lord and repeat in my heart: “Where are you, my God?”
4. A few questions
a) I take the first words that come from the mouths of the Magi and make them my own: “Where is the infant king of the Jews?” Do I really feel attracted to the place where the Lord is because I desire to be with him? Am I ready to leave the dark and old places of my habits, of my comfort, to undertake a journey of faith in search of Jesus?
b) “We have come to adore him”. Here the Word of the Lord tests me, puts me through a crucible: do I really live in a relationship of love with God? Am I able to open my life in his presence and allow him to enter into my very heart-beats?
c) “From you will come a leader who will shepherd my people”. Am I capable of placing and giving my whole existence to the guidance of the Lord, to trust in him, in his love, in his so real presence even though he remains invisible?
d) “Going into the house they saw the child”. It is precisely because they accept to go into the house, to enter into communion, to give themselves fully and truly that their eyes can see, contemplate and recognise. Why is it that I am not aware of the fact that the more I stay outside, the more I am distant from the life of my brothers and sisters and the more I become sad and empty?
5. A key to the reading
I look for some key words, some basic themes, that may guide and help me better penetrate the meaning of this passage of the Gospel, so that my life may be enlightened and changed by this Word of the Lord.
* The journey: This passage seems to be shot through with the grand theme of a journey, an exodus, a going out. The Magi, these mysterious characters, get moving, go far away from their land and go seeking the king, the Lord. Matthew presents this fact by means of some verbs that proceed along development of the event: came, we have come, sent them, go, set out, went before them, going into, not to go back, returned. The physical journey of the Magi hides a much more important and meaningful journey, the journey of faith. This is the movement of the soul born from a desire to meet and know the Lord. At the same time it is God’s invitation, who calls and attracts us with his own power; it is he who gets us to stand up and sets us in motion, who offers us signs and does not cease to walk with us. Scripture gives us many important examples and these help us enter into this path of grace and blessings. To Abraham God said: “Leave your country, your family and your father’s house, for the land I will show you” (Gen 12: 1). Jacob too was a pilgrim of faith and conversion; in fact, of him is written: “Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran” (Gen 28: 10) and: “Moving on, Jacob went to the land of the sons of the East” (Gen 29: 1). Many years later, the Lord spoke to him and said: “Go back to the land of your forefathers and to your kindred; and I will be with you” (Gen 31: 3). Moses too was a man on a journey; God himself showed him the way, the exodus, in his heart, in his depths, and made of his whole life a long march of salvation for him and for his brothers and sisters: “So come, I send you to Pharaoh to bring the sons of Israel, my people, out of Egypt!” (Ex 3: 10). Also the new people of God, we the children of the promise and of the new covenant, are called to go out all the time and to set out on a journey in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus. The exodus never ceased; the liberation that comes from faith is still always active. Let us look at Jesus, at his apostles, at Paul: not one of them stands still, not one of them hides. All these witnesses speak to us today by their deeds and they repeat: “Blessed is he who finds in you his strength and one who decides in his heart to go on the holy journey” (Ps 83: 6).
The star: This is a very important and central element in this passage because the star has the role of guiding the Magi to their destination, of enlightening their nights along the journey, of indicating precisely the place of the presence of the Lord, of giving great joy to their hearts. Throughout the Bible, stars appear as signs of blessing and glory, almost a personification of God, who does not abandon his people, and, at the same time, a personification of the people that does not forget its God and praises and blesses him (cfr. Ps 148: 3; Bar 3: 34). The word star appears for the first time in Scripture in Genesis 1: 16, when, on the fourth day, the story of creation tells us of the appearance in the heavens of the sun, the moon and stars, as signs and as light, to set order and give light. The Jewish term for “star” kokhab is very beautiful and full of meaning. In fact, the letters that make up the word reveal the immensity of the presence that these celestial elements bring with them. We find two letters caf, which signify “hand” and which enclose the letter waw, which means man, understood in his vital structure, in his backbone, which keeps him erect, which makes him rise towards heaven, towards contact with his God and Creator. Thus, within the stars there are two hands, caf and caf, that lovingly hold within themwaw, man: these are the hands of God that never cease to hold us, if only we entrust ourselves to them. Then appears the letter bet, which means house. Thus the stars speak to us of our journey towards our house, of our constant migrating from and returning there, whence we have come, from the day of our creation and even from all eternity. Often God compares the descendants of Abraham to the stars in the heavens, almost as if each person is a star, born to give light in the night: “Look up to heaven and count the stars if you can” and then he adds: “Such will be your descendants” (Gen 15: 5). Jesus also is a star, the star that takes its rise from Jacob (Num 24: 17), that rises from on high, that is the radiant morning star, as the Apocalypse says (22: 16). In fact, in him has taken flesh the infinite love of God, which bends itself down towards us, his children, and opens the palms of his hands to gather and welcome us. Only such love can give our infinite weakness the capacity and courage, the perseverance and joy of accepting to leave, to go on the long and arduous journey of faith, which takes us to Bethlehem, to the place where God appears to us.
* The adoration: The act of adoration is as old as humankind itself, because since the beginning, the relationship with the divinity has been accompanied by this demand of love, of humility, of self-offering. Before the greatness of God, we, little people, feel and discover that we are nothing, a speck of dust, a drop from a bucket. In the Old Testament, the act of adoration appears as an act of deep love towards the Lord, an act that demands the involvement of the whole person: the mind, the will to choose, love full of desire and a body that bows and prostrates itself even to the ground. It is said in several places that the act of adoration is accompanied by a prostration with the face touching the ground; the face of man, his gaze, his breath returns to the dust whence he has his origin and there he recognises himself as creature of God, as a breath of God’s nostrils. “Come in, let us bow, prostrate ourselves, and kneel in front of Yahweh our maker” (Ps 94: 6): this is the invitation of Scripture to us every day, showing us the way to walk so that we may again and again come to the truth and so live fully.
The New Testament goes even deeper in its spiritual reflection on this fact and seems to want to accompany us on a pedagogical journey of conversion and of maturity in our interior life. In the Gospels we see the disciples, men and women, adoring the Lord Jesus after his resurrection (Mt 28: 9; Lk 24: 52), because they recognise him as God. Jesus’ words in his dialogue with the Samaritan woman give us a deep insight into the truth of this act, which, after all, involves the whole of life and is an attitude of the heart: adoration is for God the Father and does not happen here or there but in Spirit and in truth, that is, in the Spirit and the Son, Jesus. We must not deceive ourselves; it is not by moving from one place to another, nor by seeking this or that spiritual person that we can adore our God. The movement, the journey is an interior one and takes place in our deepest being and is a complete surrender of ourselves, our life, our whole being, to the wings of the Holy Spirit and into the arms of Jesus, wide open on the cross and ever ready to attract all things to himself. St. Peter says clearly: “Simply reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts” (1 Pt 3: 15). The act of bowing to the ground, of prostrating ourselves before the Lord comes from the heart. If we let ourselves be touched and reach into our hearts, if we allow the Lord to enter our hearts, that sacred space, then He will change us completely, transform the whole of our person and make of us new men and women.
6. A moment of prayer: Psalm 84
A hymn concerning the trust of man
on his journey to the house of God
Res. I have seen your star, Lord,
and I have come to adore you!
How lovely are your dwelling-places, Yahweh Sabaoth.
My whole being yearns and pines for Yahweh's courts,
My heart and my body cry out for joy to the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
the swallow a nest to place its young: your altars,
Yahweh Sabaoth, my King and my God.
How blessed are those who live in your house;
they shall praise you continually.
Blessed those who find their strength in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of the Balsam,
they make there a water-hole,
and -- a further blessing -- early rain fills it.
They make their way from height to height,
God shows himself to them in Zion.
Yahweh, God Sabaoth, hear my prayer,
listen, God of Jacob.
God, our shield, look,
and see the face of your anointed.
Better one day in your courts than a thousand at my own devices,
to stand on the threshold of God's house
than to live in the tents of the wicked.
For Yahweh God is a rampart and shield,
he gives grace and glory;
Yahweh refuses nothing good to those whose life is blameless.
Yahweh Sabaoth,
blessed is he who trusts in you.
7. Closing prayer
Lord, my Father, I have really seen your star, I have opened my eyes to your presence of love and salvation and I have received the light of life. I have contemplated the night changed into light, pain into joy and solitude into communion; yes, all this happened before you, in your Word. You have led me through the desert; you have led me to your house and opened the door for me to enter. There I saw you, your Son Jesus, Saviour of my life; there I prayed and adored, I cried and found your smile, I kept silence and learnt to speak. In your house, merciful Father, I have found life once more!
And now I am going back, I have resumed my journey, but the way is not the one I took before and my life is not what it was before. Your Word has left me with a new heart, capable of opening itself to love, to listen, to welcome and become home to so many brothers and sisters whom you have placed in my way. I was not aware, Lord, but you have made me into a child again, you have given birth to me with Jesus. Thank you, Father, my Father!