There are all sorts of little treasures surrounding the Epiphany, otherwise known as the adoration of the magi. They come from a far away place, Persia, and from another culture: Zoroastrianism. They follow a star, bring three gifts, and avoid another king named Herod. Every line in the reading has meaning. This epiphany is also known as the revelation of Jesus to the Gentiles as those kings do come from another culture. Legend gives these kings names: Balthasar, Caspar, and Melchior. An Arabian scholar, an Indian scholar, and a Persian scholar seek out this newborn king. Their gifts of gold frankincense and myrrh each have significance. Gold fitting an earthly king, and frankincense a heavenly one. Both are mentioned in Isaiah’s reading:
all from Sheba shall come
bearing gold and frankincense,
and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.
The third gift, myrrh, signifies death and suffering. Ironically that is missing from the old testament reading, yet obviously relevant to Christ’s kingship. There is the irony in that these three wise men pass king Herod in order to see Jesus. They pass a King in charge of much possession to kneel before an infant. Next is the description of their route. There is a star they follow that fuels much scholarship and debate. There is also that route where they first encounter Herod and his request, and then there is their route home; a route that leads to the Child, and yet another that processes from Him. After their adoration of the child, “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.”
With all that takes place in this gospel story, sometimes it is easy to miss the significance of those wise men’s journey or route. In that journey they are guided by something in the distance and encounter many things I am sure they were familiar with. They did after all agree to meet with King Herod. After meeting Christ though they changed their route and went home another way. The logical reason was to avoid Herod, yet their epiphany at that time I am sure was not so defined. Like that child, I am sure their realization of Jesus was in its infancy. They saw a glimpse of the newborn King of the Jews, but not yet the full glory of his reign. That glimpse though was enough to change them, as every encounter with Christ is meant to bring about a change. An epiphany is defined as “a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.” Perhaps their epiphany was that the king of the Jews was a child, and that this King was a true King unlike the falseness of Herod. Perhaps their epiphany was Herod’s fear of that child, or perhaps their epiphany was what this feast day suggests: the Christ was not simply King to the Jews but to the Gentiles as well. On that journey their epiphany is not limited to one. In fact, the three epiphanies are this one of the Magi, Christ’s baptism, and the wedding at Canna. Each reveals something of Christ’s divinity.
What got me started thinking of the epiphany as a journey though came outside of scripture. Instead it came out of the practice of announcing the movable dates of the upcoming liturgical year: the chanted proclamation Noveritis or “Let y’all know”. What that chant pointed out was a journey similar to that journey of the wise men and that is the journey of the upcoming liturgical year. It reminded me of how though I have been on this same journey in the past, it again begins a new journey as my personal epiphanies of this year are built on the past yet also something new. I too get the chance to go to my country another way, just as the magi. The feast of the epiphany is not simply a recollection of an historical event. It is a reminder that we too are again approaching this newborn child, knelling before him, and presenting our gifts. It is the beginning of our newly revealed epiphanies, and those we are about to experience, and it is about the new choices made after approaching Christ. We are on that same journey as those magi, and it is worth noting that though legend numbers them as three scripture does not place a limit on the number who adore the new born Christ. We to can be counted among those who journey towards a new born Christ, present our gifts to that King, and proceed in a new direction illuminated by His light.