Reflection for the Feast of Epiphany of the Lord
Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
A typical nativity scene shows the baby Jesus surrounded by Mary and Joseph and some animals to give the ambiance of animal habitation. You could see the shepherds on the left of the infant Jesus and the wise men on the right. And above the little house, one could see a bright star and at least one angel suspended in the sky.
As compelling and beautiful as artists depict the nativity scene, it does not tell the story in sequential details. For instance, the magi did not come simultaneously with the shepherds on the night Jesus was born.
There could have been a long time (months or even years) between the visit of the shepherds (Luke 2:8-20) and that of the magi (Matt. 2:1-13). The shepherds were in the area the night Jesus was born, and they saw a baby lying in a manger (Luke 2:16). But the magi traveled from the east, and they saw the child with his mother, Mary, in a house, not at the manger (Matt.2:11). It could have been a different location.
Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, which means the manifestation of the newborn King to the world with the visit of the magi or wise men from the east. Our reflection would give more clarity to the story while drawing out the relevance of the visit to our Christian life and vocation.
Who were the magi? Many things have been said about the magi than we have in the bible. Some refer to them as priests, others as astrologers. Perhaps the most popular idea refers to them as kings and puts their number as three though the Gospel of Matthew only says they gave three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matt. 2:11).
Where did they come from, and how far? We have the information that they came from the east, but the exact location needs to be mentioned. They could have come from the ancient Persian area, and the journey could have been months and more, not twelve days.
Recall that the bible tells us that the navigation system they used was the magnificent star, so they could only travel at night and rest during the day. Furthermore, when they did not return to Herod, he ordered the killing of children from two years under, judging from when the wise men saw the star (Matt. 2:16).
Why did they come? We find the answer to this question in the words of the eastern visitors: “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matt. 2:2). Here we understand that the biggest designation of the magi is that they were worshippers.
What did they come with? The magi were wealthy. The narrative tells us that they opened their treasures and gave Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matt. 2:11). We have been taught that the gold represents the Kingship of Jesus, and the Frankincense is the priestly office. Myrrh refers to his anointing at death which never happened because he rose from death.
Moving Forward: Timeless Lessons from the Magi for the New Year
Leave your comfort zone: In life, your comfort zone may not be the conquering zone. The magi teach us the importance of leaving our comfort zone for some higher values. They left the comfort of their wealth and fame and followed a star and not having the full details. Your comfort zone may delay or deprive you of a glorious encounter with the Lord.
Never give up: The narrative tells us that the star leading them suddenly disappeared, but they did not give up the search for the Lord. So, as you march through the New Year, please do not give up when you cannot find your star because it shall still rise and shine again.
Be obedient to instructions: Herod had a bad intention to kill the child; however, he gave the magi a good instruction that is still valid for us today: “Go and search diligently for the child.” Following that instruction, the star showed up again for them. Furthermore, they were submissive to God’s instruction not to return to Herod. Obedience remains a powerful key to success.
Offer the best to God: The magi opened their treasures and gave their best to the Lord alongside their spiritual worship. So today, our gold should be our hearts, for blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matt. 5:8). Our frankincense should be the spiritual sacrifice of ourselves (Romans 12:1), and our myrrh should be our readiness to preserve our souls for the Lord (Psalm 121:7).
Wise men and women are still diligently searching for the Lord. Remember, he says: “you will seek me and find me if you search me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
God bless you.