Epiphany: Which king are you?

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Epiphany of the Lord: Jan. 6, 2013
Isa 60:1-6; Ps 72; Eph 3:2-3, 5-6; Matt 2:1-12

Today we hear the tale of three kings. But when I say “three kings,” I’m not thinking of the magi, traditionally numbered as three and named Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. It’s a different grouping I’m thinking of; and you are one of them! But which one?

The first king is the Lord God, who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth; and it was very good. But then our first parents sinned, corrupting not only all of the human race but indeed the entire universe. But God would not leave us to our fallen misery; he set into motion a great plan to save us. He would focus very small, in the beginning: one man, one family, one nation. He would focus upon them, reveal the truth about himself and them, teach them his ways. But always the plan was to expand: to reach out, from this chosen people, to reach the whole world.

And so in the fullness of time the Father sent forth the Son to take on human nature, to become true man, and to be born on Christmas Day. And it was all very hidden and very quiet, in the lives of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. But it could not stay that way. On Christmas Night the news was announced to nearby shepherds by an angel. And the news was sent out still further. For the time had come to more effectively begin the salvation of all of humanity. As had been said through the prophet Isaiah many centuries earlier:

It is too little… for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. (Isa 49:6)

And so Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, was indeed announced to the world—revealed, manifested, which is what “Epiphany” means—through the light of a star. Salvation has come! Emmanuel, God-with-us, is born! Who will see? Who will respond?

The second king, or group of kings, is the magi in the east. The magi were originally a caste of Persian priests who interpreted dreams; and they were associated with the study of the stars in astrology. Whether these magi were kings as well is not actually told to us by Scripture; but at the least we can be sure that they were responsible men who sought to govern their own lives well.

And what do we see in them? We see that they were what we might call “seekers.” They had learned the specialized knowledge of their caste well; they practiced it; and so they had immediately taken notice of the star that signified a newborn king,
at its rising. And it seems that they were on the lookout for something, expecting something, even hungering for it: something important in the history of the world, something important for themselves personally. They were watching for it; they saw it; and they responded, making the journey to the Holy Land, following that star, and overjoyed as they found the one they were seeking.

And on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

These seeker kings found; they were filled with joy; and they were utterly fulfilled personally by being in the presence of Jesus, adoring him, worshiping him, and responding to his love.

The third king is King Herod the Great. He ruled in the Holy Land, under the Roman Empire, from about 37 BC to 4 BC. During his reign, one thing he accomplished was some incredible building projects. He reconstructed the Temple in Jerusalem, making it one of the wonders of the world; and part of that project involved expanding the top of the hill into a much larger stone platform for the Temple complex; and that platform survives to this day, with the Dome of the Rock now sitting upon it. He also constructed an artificial harbor on the Mediterranean in order to establish a new port city, Caesarea Maritima; and that harbor lasted for several centuries, even though there was no one to properly repair and maintain it as it was gradually demolished by storms.

But he accomplished all of this through murders, extortion, and tyranny. He was so desperate to maintain control that he eventually murdered even his wife and two of his sons. And so how did he respond when the magi showed up in Jerusalem looking for the newborn king of the Jews? It wasn’t that he didn’t believe it: he did believe that this was the promised Messiah, and that his birth could be located, as prophesied, in Bethlehem. He heard the message and he believed it! But he rejected it. He wanted to maintain his own control of his own little kingdom; he didn’t want to accept the salvation offered to him by the Lord. And so he conceived his secret plan, and lied to the magi; and then later, when they didn’t return to tell him exactly who this newborn king was, he ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under (Matt 2:16).

What a difference! What a difference between the magi and King Herod to our Lord Jesus! Humble seeking and finding and adoration on the one hand; lies and rejection and murderous rage on the other.

And how will you respond? For this tale of three kings applies to each of us. The first king, the Lord God, is reaching out to you: the Father is revealing the Son, who is offering you salvation. And how will you respond? Will you seek and accept and embrace like the magi? Or will you remain closed and rejecting like Herod?

Three quick questions to consider as we begin this New Year. First, are you making time to receive the epiphany, the revelation, of the Lord? Much as the Father was announcing the birth of Christ by the star—so the Lord is seeking to reach out to you and to communicate things to you. Are you making yourself open to hear it? Consider carving out a daily time to pray and to reflect upon the Scriptures; perhaps through coming into this church or another to do so in our Lord’s real presence in the Blessed Sacrament; so that you can hear the words he wants to speak to you.

Second, are you accepting his word to you or rejecting it? Are you following his lead, or closing yourself off to it? Are you living according to the moral teaching that he has given you through his Church? Are you responding to his call in your life; the mission that he wants you to fulfill; a call to truth and generous love? Are you saying yes like the magi, or no like Herod?

Third, is there someone around you who needs to see the light of Christ? Someone who may be seeking and hungering just like the magi; someone with whom you could share the radiant good news of our Lord Jesus Christ?

You shall be radiant at what you see; your heart shall throb and overflow… Rise up in splendor! Your light has come; the glory of the Lord shines upon you!

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