1In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6"And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"
9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.
10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.
Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Today we're having an epiphany and we also move into a several weeks long season of epiphany. From "epi" = upon and "phan" = manifestation, revealing, revelation, illumination, uncovering, an epiphany is a shining out, showing forth. Related words include tiffany, fantasy, theophany.
The day and the season of epiphany (Sundays leading up to Transfiguration that's the Sunday before Ash Wednesday) especially emphasize the presence and persistence of light, particularly the light of Christ that illuminates all creation. The Bethlehem-born Jewish baby Jesus is redeemer of all, Lord of all, king and shepherd for all cultures, ethnicities, and religions. In the global north Epiphany arrives shortly after the winter solstice, making its symbolism of light especially meaning-filled. This scripture tells us about the star at "the rising," at daybreak, at dawning. With light that seeks out and illumines darkness, stars long have been a symbol for epiphany,
When the church welcomed a new year of grace on the first Sunday of Advent, we began the year of Matthew's gospel; aside from the great fifty days of Easter and a few isolated other days, our gospel readings will be from Matthew for the rest of this year until Advent 2020. Along with Mark and Luke, as one of the three synoptic gospel accounts that view [optic] Jesus' story in somewhat similar [syn] ways, Matthew also brings a distinctive perspective. As Sundays come around, we'll study more passages from Matthew, but briefly for today:
Matthew emphasizes Jesus as the new Moses and the new David. With the opening words "A Book of Beginnings" – biblios geneseos – the author(s) announce their intentions to bring us a new genesis, a new creation, in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Matthew's genealogy includes many ethnic and religious "others." Jesus' great commission at the end of Matthew [28:16-20] charges us to go into all the world, preach the gospel to all people.
The visit of "wise men from the east" is one of the stories unique to Matthew. Three gifts have turned into a tradition of three kings, yet the text doesn't specify. Their retinue would have included many male and female servants, possibly children, definitely camels, other animals. They could have been royalty of some kind; most likely they were members of the Zoroastrian religion, a middle-eastern way of life that preceded Islam.