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Finding the Saviour of the world PDF Print E-mail

Sunday 07 January 2018: The Epiphany of the Lord

We have come from the East to worship the king

The three wise men follow the starThrough the Incarnation, the generosity and mercy of God have finally appeared among us - in the life of one who is the very expression of the Father’s greatness. And so, from earliest times the Church’s Christmas celebration has made reference the Epiphany, or ‘Manifestation’ of the Lord – symbolised in the story of today’s gospel, but also realised in a special way in the Lord’s baptism, and in the ‘first sign’ he worked at the marriage in Cana. It comes as no surprise, when we hear it read, to find that today’s first reading from Isaiah has a very ancient association with this festival: ‘Arise, shine out Jerusalem. The nations come to your light and kings to your brightness’. This passage – from the writings of the Isaian tradition from the period after the return from the exile – expresses a vision of Israel fulfilling its role as ‘a light to the nations’. Sharing in the ‘glory’ (or incomparable greatness) of the Lord himself, the holy city will attract the wealth of the nations as the kings of the earth share in its rebuilding.

This Old Testament text and its parallels (see Ps 72:10) may have inspired the story recounted by Matthew in today’s gospel. It is possible that an unusual astronomical event may also have contributed to its inspiration, calling to mind the prophecy of Balaam, ‘a star is emerging from Jacob’ (Num 24:17). As it stands, the story is filled with symbolic meaning. The Magi represent the nations of the earth finding the Saviour of the world – in contrast to the scribes of Israel, familiar with the scriptures but not recognising their fulfilment; the gifts of the Magi are symbolic of the world’s confession of faith in Christ – gold for royalty, frankincense for priesthood, myrrh for the one who is to die; notoriously ruthless Herod reminds us of earthly powers that obstruct the designs of God. We should note, especially, the significance of the words, ‘going in they saw the child with his mother, Mary’.

Extract by John Thornhill sm - read more at The Emmaus Series