The unique revelation of Advent for all people
The story of the wise men, or “Magi” as Matthew calls them, has a special sense of mystery and joy to it and has long been celebrated by Christians on a special feast day called Epiphany. The Greek word epipháneia means “shining out” or “revealing.” Of course, the Bible is full of great epiphanies: The burning bush that caused Moses to turn aside and meet God was an epiphany; Isaiah’s vision in chapter 6 of “the Lord lifted up” was an epiphany; the heavens opening at Jesus’ baptism was an epiphany. So how did this particular moment in Matthew’s gospel come to be called the Epiphany? The answer lies in the fact that it is of special importance to us who are of Gentile descent—those who were not born into the Jewish race, the original chosen people.
Sometimes, reading the Old Testament feels like overhearing someone else’s long family history, and it makes you wonder what it really has to do with you. But then suddenly you hear your own name and realize this is your story too. This is what happens in the moment that the Magi reach the Jesus child. Until now, the story of the coming Messiah has been confined to Israel, the covenant people, but here suddenly and mysteriously, three Gentiles have intuited that his birth is good news for them too and brought gifts accordingly. Here is an epiphany, a revelation, that the birth of Christ is not one small step for a local religion but a great leap for all mankind. Jesus is for all of us, Gentile and Jew alike!
I love the way that the three wise men are traditionally depicted as representing the different races, cultures, and languages of the world. I love the way the world, in all its diversity, is …