Sunday reflection by Very Reverend Stephen E. Salocks, Rector of Saint John's Seminary - January 3, 2021
Having celebrated the glory of God that appeared at the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at Christmas, we celebrate today, on the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, the manifestation of God’s salvation in Christ for all peoples. The Church gathers in prayer before the God who, “on this day revealed [His] Only Begotten Son to the nations by the guidance of a star,” and we pray that He whom we already know by faith will, in His mercy, bring us to behold and share the beauty of His sublime glory.
The prayers and scriptures of this day proclaim the “epiphany” or manifestation of Jesus Christ as the light of all nations. The prophet Isaiah, speaking to the people of Jerusalem who have just returned from exile, exhorts them to rise up in splendor because their light has come and the glory of the Lord shines upon them. Despite the darkness that covers the earth, the Lord shines upon them, and they, in turn, are to be a light for the nations – a light that will draw many nations to them so that all may walk by the light and glory of God.
We prayerfully respond to the manifestation of God’s glory with the words and spirit of Psalm 72, “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” The psalm invokes God’s blessing on both the king and the nation so that the justice, peace, and compassion of God will guide his rule, even as it expands to the ends of the earth. As God’s anointed one and adopted son, the king will manifest God’s presence and care for the people. Like Isaiah's prophecy, the psalm’s prayer anticipates the fuller and more complete manifestation in the person of Christ.
The Gospel passage from Matthew brings it all together. Like the Gospels that show visitors coming and paying homage to Jesus, Matthew presents the Magi's adoration – astrologers who follow the brightness of a star and find Jesus. Following that light and bearing gifts, these Gentiles, who are outsiders and representative of distant lands as well as different ways of thinking about God and life, stand for all those in the world who are seeking and finding God with the help of the light that comes from God. In finding the newborn king, they discover that they are the ones found. In offering precious gifts, they receive the gift of Christ in their lives. In following the light of the star to Christ, they leave by the guidance of the star with the light of Christ. On Christmas Day, the Gospel of John told us that Christ is the light of the human race, a light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.
The Magi's adoration is a key part of the Church’s celebration of both the Nativity and the Epiphany of the Lord. The Gospel of Matthew reminds us that the birth of Christ fulfilled the prophecies of old that in Bethlehem, the Christ would be born – a ruler who would shepherd the people of Israel. Matthew also believed that Isaiah’s prophecy about God’s light rising to shine on the fallen people of Israel was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Christ even came for those like Herod and others in Jerusalem who would be troubled by his birth.
The birth of Christ was not just for the Jewish people but also for the Gentiles, and today’s Second Reading from Ephesians tells us that “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” The arrival of the Magi reminds us that Jesus Christ came for all people and freely offered salvation to all.
As we come to the last week of the Christmas season, we do well to reflect on the Magi's journey and the ways in which we have come to know Christ in our life’s journeys. How will we continue to seek for the Lord, and how will we be open to being guided by the light of Christ in this New Year of 2021? As we make our New Year’s resolutions, how will we recommit our lives to Jesus and continue to receive the gift of salvation gratefully that He brings to us?
“… Since in all confidence you follow Christ, who today appeared in the world as a light shining in darkness, may God make you, too, a light for your brothers and sisters.” [Solemn Blessing for the Epiphany of the Lord, Roman Missal, 528)