SFX Bulletin, 4 January 2015 The Greek word “Epiphaneia” from which we get the English word “Epiphany” means “appearance” or “manifestation” of a divine reality. The Church celebrates this as a Feast marking the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God not only to the Jewish people but to the whole world – to “the nations” as prophesied by the prophet Isaiah (Isa.60:3). The wise men from the east in seeing this revelation made true before their eyes in the child Jesus with his mother Mary, fell to their knees and “did him homage…opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Mt.2:11).
Today, many of us feel the need to verify the historicity of the magi. We want to know which countries “from the east” these wise men originate; we question their “wisdom” since their occupation seems to be star-gazing; were they really called Casper, Melchior and Balthazar; were there only three wise men since only three types of gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh are mentioned. All these questions on literal details miss the point of what the gospel writer wants to say – that in encountering Jesus and coming to know that God is now in our midst most intimately in the community of believers called the church - one has received an epiphany that is beyond words – a joy so deep that the only appropriate response is adoration and submission symbolized by the wise men falling on their knees and paying homage and in the Psalmist’s declaration that in coming to know and experience the saving help of the Lord “all nations shall fall prostrate” (Ps.71:11).
An epiphany is beyond being well-versed in scripture or having religious knowledge. Matthew tells us that although all the chief priests and the scribes knew of the prophecy from Micah that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, the city of King David, and, like King David, will “shepherd” his people (Mt.2:6; Mic.5:1), they did not have the desire for its fulfillment as the wise men had. In fact, King Herod and many in Jerusalem were “perturbed” (Mt.2:3) rather than joyful that a prophecy had come to fulfillment. In preferring his own plans rather than God’s plan, King Herod ordered the killing of all infants under the age of two so that he could eliminate the “threat” to his kingship – a tragedy which the church marks at the Feast of the Holy Innocents every December 28.
The two different attitudes towards God’s unfolding plan of salvation prompts us to examine our own attitudes towards revelation as it is now transmitted to us through the Tradition of the Church and the written word or the Word of God which is our Bible. Through Scripture, “…we find ourselves before the mystery of God, who has made himself known through the gift of his word…God spoke his eternal Word humanly; his Word ‘became flesh’ (Jn 1:14). This is the good news. This is the proclamation which has come down the centuries to us today” (Verbum Domini, The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church, n.1). St. Paul calls this gift of revelation “knowledge of the mystery (of grace)” - not simply some intellectual religious knowledge that we can acquire on our own but “a mystery that is revealed through the Spirit’ (Eph.3:2-5).
Humility and prayer, says Our Holy Father, are the “two simple things” that will predispose us to receiving the Word of God as a salvation message and make us joyous that God has sent Jesus to us as Saviour. He urges us not to be people who “kill the word of God” or “cage the Holy Spirit” by interpreting the Word “according to their own interests, their own theologies, their own ideologies…”.
Let us not be proud, self-sufficient people who are “perturbed” by the call to be humble and prayerful and submit to God. Rather, let us pray for the wisdom of the wise men which is directed towards seeking a deepening encounter with God and so live in truth. Regardless of whether we will ever have archaeological proof of Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, they can still be cherished by us as truly delightful reminders of what Jesus has come to do for us, our families and all we love: C-M-B (the first letter of their names) also stands for “Christus Mansionem Benedicat”- (“Christ bless this house”. May Christ bless us all with the humble submission to prostrate and worship and truly be joyous at his saving help.