I just had an epiphany about Epiphany.
The annual Christian Feast day of Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day, will be celebrated this year on Monday, January 6, 2020. This day marks the official end of the twelve days of Christmas and celebrates the journey of the Wise Men who followed yonder star and traversed afar to visit the new-born King of Mankind.
Have you ever wondered what else we might learn from these Wise Men, other than how to pronounce frankincense and myrrh?
What is so significant about these Kings, these Magi, these Wise Men, these mysterious strangers that their story has been told and retold for centuries, and is a fixture on the annual Christian Liturgical Calendar — and further is memorialized in the Christmas carol “We Three Kings?”
The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of these Wise Men from the East. Their number was not actually specified but has traditionally thought to be three as there were three gifts given. Who were these Wise Men? Were they really kings? And from where did they come? The East? That’s a little vague.
Some historians believe they were Zoroastrian Priests, known for being “Followers of Truth.” Zoroastrians were the first tribal people to come to know, recognize, and worship the One True God in days of old when polytheism was the norm. These elite scholars, if not kings, were undoubtedly highly respected as the brightest among the Zoroastrians. They not only studied the stars but were students of the Hebrew Scriptures as well. Following the mysterious light in the heavens, they arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is he who is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2)
Do you think the ever-suspicious, always paranoid King Herod was the least bit agitated at the news of a new-born King in his kingdom? No wonder the conniving Herod invited the Magi to return with news of what they found. He wanted to meet this so-called King too, although with less than honorable motives.
How significant is it, how ironic, that these “Wise Men,” known to be Followers of Truth, were the first to welcome a new-born babe in a manger who one day would claim to be the “Truth”?
The early Church Fathers suggest that the Magi were not perplexed by finding the new-born King in a stable. They realized this King was not an earthly one. The stable may have been an ordinary place, but the Star that guided them was far beyond ordinary. Though it had led them to a lowly inconspicuous village called Bethlehem, they marveled at how even the heavens paid homage to this King.
Yet their journey offers a timeless lesson in the choice these Followers of Truth had to make. Herod maintained his power by brute force and lived in constant fear. He clearly did not want competition as a king. Now they faced a dilemma. King Herod expected them to report back after their visit with the Holy Family. Their options were limited.
The Magi could return to the deceitful Herod and speak the truth. Or they could lie to protect the new-born king. To return to Herod or not to return, to tell or not to tell, to lie or not to lie. But lies are not the language of anyone who seeks Truth.
No doubt, these Wise Men would have preferred a comfortable and cozy night over at Herod’s palace, drinking his fine wine and enjoying some choice lamb chops before heading back East. Temptation often comes with attractive wrappings, especially when the alternative is a cold night of gritty desert winds, warmed only by smelly camels breath and left-over lamb jerky for dinner.
Having found what they were seeking, having met the Truth, they could not return to Herod with lies. They chose to remain faithful to the One True God and His Son. In the end, guided by a dream from God not to return to Herod, they chose a third alternative, the righteous way home, “They departed for their home country by another way.” (Matthew 2:12)
So, what is this message of the Feast of the Epiphany?
Who could not be fascinated with these Wise Men who gained the respect of all who would read their story in the ages to come? But why do we need to hear their story at the end and the beginning of every new year? Why celebrate Epiphany? I believe that just like the Wise Men, once you have met Jesus, you cannot leave in the same direction you came. Once you have truly met the Truth, you are changed forever.
Come, let us adore Him! The Wise Men purposed to follow the path of light and truth. So should we.
Besides, whenever one meets Jesus, there is always an Epiphany!