Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. -Matthew 2:1-12
Today is January 6.
For many, it is a day to take down your Christmas decorations and pack them away until next December. Some use it as a time to sit down with the cards they have received during the holidays and to reread the messages that they might have glanced over during the Christmas rush.
In Italy, the tradition of La Befana is celebrated. The story dates back to the visit of the Magi to Baby Jesus. Apparently, La Befana, an old woman with a broom, was invited to join the Magi on their journey to find Jesus. However, she refused. Later, regretting her decision, she went in search of the Baby Jesus, but not finding him, she left her gifts for children (and even swept some of the homes she visited!). La Festa dell’Epifania is as exciting for children as Christmas, and children leave out their shoes or stockings which La Befana fills according to whether they’ve been good or bad.
Whatever the legends, Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Magi and the bringing of their gifts to the Baby Jesus. But who were the Magi? And how many were there? What we do know is that what we thought we knew isn’t so. There weren’t three and they weren’t kings! The Magi were astrologers, wise and learned men. They were non-Jews in search of the Baby Jesus.
For us, the Magi represent God’s coming to the whole world, rich and poor, highly educated and illiterate, not just to the Jews, but to the Gentiles as well. God sent his Son into the world in the form of a human baby, also referred to as Theophany (from Ancient Greek (ἡ) θεοφάνεια theophaneia, meaning “appearance of god”), to rescue and give hope to us. The Magi present us with two clear choices: the way of compromise or the way of truth. Their choice was between two kings. The Magi could have submitted to King Herod, returned to him, told him where to find Jesus, and been rewarded with great power and riches. Instead, they recognized Truth when they saw it and chose to follow the one true King. Epiphany brings into clear focus the Christian’s obligation to live out before the world the Good News of the Gospel.
Our choice is the same today and every day. We can seek security, complacency, power, and influence, or we can follow the way of the cross—the way, and the truth, and the life.