Happy feast of the Epiphany of our Lord! Today, we celebrate the revelation of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, to the world. Jesus was first revealed to the shepherds at the manger in Bethlehem, and now to the magi who came from the east to adore the new-born king.
Imagine the conversations of the Magi as they travelled to meet Jesus. Uncertainty and discovery marked their journey. Remember that there was no GPS to give them directions to where they were going. However, brightly visible light from a star was the compass on their journey to meet Jesus.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us that “the darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples”. Light is needed to break the darkness – Jesus is the light. Vision The vision and mission of God are evident in the incarnate Christ, the star, the true light of the world. As Isaiah points out, “. . . upon the Lord, the light shines, and nations shall walk by your light”.
In our reflection, I will focus on three themes: intention and motives, the meaning of the gifts from the Magi, and a transformative encounter. For me, the feast of Epiphany brings back memories of my childhood.
When I was growing up in the countryside in Kenya, women (birthers) sang ululations announcing the birth of a baby to inform neighbours of a new member in the community. On receiving this news, women would fill baskets of presents with clothing and food for the baby and family. It was a joyful moment to introduce the new-born baby to the community.
Like the Magi, women waited with open hearts and minds in readiness to welcome the new-born into the community. Of course, the visit of the Magi had a unique significance; they had been drawn by the Holy Spirit to seek the new-born Christ, “the true light which enlightens everyone”.
On intentions and motives: Matthew’s narrative is descriptive, telling us that the Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem inquiring about the location of the new-born king of the Jews, as they had seen a star rising and had come to pay him homage.
On hearing this, Herod was perturbed and anxious about the questions the Magi were asking. Consequently, he assembled the chief priests and scribes and inquired where the Christ was to be born.
The response did not serve to ease Herod’s anxiety, for he learned that, according to the prophet, the king was to be born “in Bethlehem of Judea”. Herod asked the Magi to return and let him know of the whereabouts of the newborn child.
Of course, Herod’s concerns were political and self-centred; his intention and motive were not to go and do homage to new-born Christ, but to harm baby Jesus and thus remove a perceived threat to himself.
Herod’s action is not new in human interactions. Think about the active tensions or wars around the world, within nations, in communities and families. In conflict situations, we have suspicion, mistrust, and fear.
We judge and are not open to alternative interpretations. Herod’s experience is not far from our own, particularly in situations where answers do not favour our ideas or perceptions. When confronted by individuals with different perceptions than our own, let us learn to pause, to listen to our inner voices, and to check our motives and intentions before we respond.
On the gifts: The Magi brought with them the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were meaningful and symbolic gifts. The precious and expensive gift of gold demonstrated the importance of Jesus, the saviour of the world.
Frankincense, a sweet perfume, often burned in the temple to worship God and was a sign that Jesus should be worshipped. Myrrh was used to keep things fresh, and to preserve bodies after death. Myrrh is a gift that would be used by the women to anoint Jesus’s body when he dies. Indeed, the three gifts represented the mystery of the incarnation and foretold Jesus’s suffering and death—completing the history of salvation.
On a transforming encounter: The encounter with Jesus was a life-transforming event for the Magi. It was the culmination of a long physical journey that changed the course of their lives. Think of a memorable experience that has had significance in your life.
These moments are rare and far between, but they remain vivid and clear in our memories. A single event can bring complete transformation of a person’s life forever.
Matthew explains that, after adoring Jesus, the Magi “returned to their own country by a different way”. The word “way” has several meanings, “a course travelled, a new direction, a possible decision or outcome, a habitual manner, or a mode or pattern of behaving”.
Of course, the Magi did not wish to inform Herod of where the baby Jesus was, but more significant and powerful was their encounter with Jesus: an encounter that so transformed their inner selves that they could not return to their old ways because through the Spirit, the one true mystery of creation, Jesus Christ, had been revealed to them.
Indeed, something deeper and extraordinary took place in their lives. The Magi embraced a new way of life after their encounter with Jesus. Their new path and behaviour were noticeable to others – a new direction in life.
We are invited to pause and ponder: Do our encounters with Christ in the scriptures and the Eucharist transform our lives? Are we going to remain the same after these encounters? Let us look within and around our neighbourhoods: Are there things we have taken for granted—the migrants, refugees, or people experiencing homelessness?
We are called to step out of our comfort zones to visit, to be present, to accompany, and to provide for those in need. Pope Francis asks us to move to the periphery. We have a choice to remain the same or to open our hearts, to open our eyes to see the light of Christ in others, to walk with those who are searching, to purify our motives and intentions, for the Spirit is generous in guiding and accompanying us on our journey of life.
Sister Jane Wakahiu, LSOSF, PhD, a university lecturer, is a member of the institute of the Little Sisters of Saint Francis, Kenya. She oversees the planning, development, implementation and evaluation of the Catholic Sisters initiative.
Sr Wakahiu was the executive director of the African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC), where she implemented many programs by working closely with leadership conferences, major superiors, religious congregations and institutes, twenty-three partner colleges and universities in the United States and Africa, and major foundations.