While most of the Church celebrates the Epiphany of the Lord on Jan. 6, we in the United States celebrate it this Sunday. The feast of the Epiphany was one of the original forms in which the Christian people celebrated the incarnation of Christ. It has been celebrated much longer than Christmas and in many parts of the world it is still a bigger celebration than Christmas. Epiphany means manifestation or showing forth. In this action of the Lord showing himself to the Gentiles, the church sees an invitation to all the nations and peoples of the earth to come out of the darkness of sin and fear in which they have been and to step into the wonderful light of Christ. There, in company with the wise men of old, all the nations of the earth will praise the love and glory of the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord.
First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
1 Rise up in splendor! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. 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. 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.
NOTES on First Reading:
The Church sees the symbols of her universality in these verses.
* 60:1-3 These three verses form a song of introduction to the procession of all parts of the world to Zion for the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem. The song opens with a double imperative. The song concentrates on God’s radiating dazzling presence within the city. The word, “glory”, as a noun or adjective is used nine times in this chapter.
* 60:4-9 In this section all of the nations come to Jerusalem not simply to receive instruction at the Lord’s Temple as in Isa 2:2-4; Mic 4:1-3 but to rebuild the city. Isa 49:18;22 are quoted almost verbatim.
* 60:6 Nations from the Arabian peninsula associated with Abraham and the earliest ancestral days of Israel now will return to participate in the rebuilding. One day all nations will become God’s children through faith. Matt 2:1-12 weaves these themes into his narrative of the visit by the wise men. See: Gen 25:1-4; 13-15; 28:9;36:3; Jer 6:20; Ezek 27:21; Rom 4:17.
Second Reading: Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
2 I suppose, you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for your benefit, 3 (namely, that) the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly earlier. 4 When you read this you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which 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.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 3:1-6 Here the writer portrays himself as the revealer of the mystery of Christ and reflects on his mission to the Gentiles. Paul’s special insight is that Gentiles have a place of full participation in the Church. In verse 1 Paul refers to himself as a prisoner for Christ and then leaves an incomplete sentence in the Greek never getting back to this thought.
* 3:2 Writer assumes that the hearers or readers have already heard that of which he is about to remind them.
* 3:3b-4 The last part of verse 3 and all of verse 4 is omitted from the reading. I left them in for completeness and ease of study.
* 3:5 Here the writer refers to the church being founded on the apostles and prophets.
* 3:6 The use of three nouns combined with the prefix, “SYN”, “together”, highlights the equality of the Jews and Gentiles in the new people of God, the Church.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 2:1-12
1 When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? 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. 4 Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, 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.'” 7 Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. 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.” 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. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
NOTES on Gospel:
* 2:1 The birth of Jesus is immediately put into relationship with the wider world and the political and social realities of that world. Israel’s future rejection of Jesus and his acceptance by the Gentiles are foreshadowed in this scene.
Herod the Great was a vassal king (rex socius) under the Roman Emperor and reigned at the pleasure of the emperor from 37 to 4 BC. See Luke 1:5. The events related of Herod here in Mat 2 are not attested in other documents but are quite in keeping with what is known of Herod’s character.
The word, Magi, was originally a designation for the Persian priestly caste and refers to a class of wise men associated in varying degrees with astrology, interpretation of dreams and with magic. Kings were not generally included in this group. The notion that the wise men were kings was derived in later Christian tradition from the influence of the literal interpretation of Ps 72:10; Isa 49:7; 60:10. The number of wise men is inferred from the three gifts. The wise men have always been seen as representatives of the Gentile world who come to Christ.
* 2:2 Here Jesus is ascribed a royal title. In the ancient world it was a common belief that a new star appeared at the time of a ruler’s birth. This also calls to mind the story of Balaam, who had prophesied that “A star shall advance from Jacob,” Numbers 24:17. There however the star means the king himself not an astronomical phenomenon.
* 2:3-4 This parallels an extra biblical Jewish legend about the child Moses in which the “sacred scribes” warn Pharaoh about the imminent birth of one who will deliver Israel from Egypt and the king makes plans to destroy him.
* 2:5 The tiny town of Bethlehem, the city of the humble King David is contrasted with the splendor of Jerusalem, the royal capital.
* 2:6 In spite of this prophecy from Micah 5:2 (or 5:3 in some translations) there does not seem to have been any popular expectation that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. See John 7:42. Matthew changes the original quotation from “clans of Judah” to “rulers of Judah” in order to make the messianic point more strongly. He also adds “who will shepherd my people, Israel” from 2 Sam 5:2; 1 Chron 11:2.
* 2:11 The list of gifts is influenced by Isa 60:6, 11,13; and Ps 72:10-11. In later tradition, the gold came to symbolize the kingship of Christ, the incense His Divinity and myrrh His redemptive suffering.</p