Lectionary Reflection: Epiphany: Is 60:1-6; Ps 72:1-13; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12

Botticelli, "Adoration of the Magi" (1475/6)

The word ‘Epiphany’ means ‘manifestation’ or ‘showing,’ and on this solemnity we celebrate the manifestation of Christ to all peoples, races, and nations, who are symbolized by the three magi who visit the Holy Family shortly after Christ’s nativity. In fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, the magi offer gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We have here a complete symbolic theology: the three kings give gold, which symbolizes the heart’s offering of love, in homage of Christ’s Incarnation; frankincense, which symbolizes the mind’s offering of adoration, in homage to Christ’s divinity; and myrrh, which symbolizes the body’s offering of penance, in homage to Christ’s humanity. In this respect, the magi bridge the Old and New Testaments. Although the three magi are not partakers of the covenant that God made with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they arrive to adore the Messiah. Indeed, the tribute of these gentile kings, which had been prophesied in Isaiah and the Psalms, takes on a special meaning in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where their gifts are symbols of a much deeper mystery, that the gentiles would be coheirs, members of the same body, and partners in the promise of Jesus Christ through the Gospel.

We have over the years accounted these ancient astrologers wise men. Their wisdom consists in their joy and their promptness. These wise men were “overjoyed” not at their own abilities, but upon seeing the star that would lead them to Christ. And indeed, immediately upon entering the dwelling, they prostrated themselves before the Christ and adored Him. Here, the singleness of heart found first in Abraham, who left his father’s house and journeyed into the far country, is communicated by God’s mysterious grace to three gentile astrologers, who leave their own land to adore the light that illumines every man and woman who comes into the world. In this way, guiding by God’s grace, the three wise men fulfill the mysterious prophecy first made to Abraham, the father of our faith, that he would be a light to the nations, even as his people were distinguished from them. On Epiphany, the light that was first made known to the Jews now lights the souls of all, male and female, Jew and Gentile.


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