Scripture for 4 January, observance of Epiphany:
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-15; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
The visit of the Magi has captured popular imagination for centuries, as a result of which it has enjoyed extrapolation and embellishment.
The “three kings” from afar deliver extravagant gifts to a poor, Jewish family living in strange surroundings. Yet the Magi are not numbered by Matthew, nor does he call them kings; others made those connections later. But do the embellishments detract from the story and its meaning?
They cannot, in reality.
It is almost impossible to trump God’s extravagant and cataclysmic entry into human life, although God’s vision of the world is not always coincident with prevailing human culture.
Even the gifts and their symbolism challenge our understanding: gold is for royalty, but in this case the ruler is a vulnerable, servant leader, who claims hearts, not minds; the frankincense is for a priest, but in this case the priest offers himself, not someone else’s offering; the myrrh is for burial, yet the burial is overturned, the tomb emptied.
The bearers of the gifts – gentiles, outsiders – disturb the situation that they seek and find; although their visit stamps divine approval on the human birth to which they bear witness, they unleash the disapproval of those who claim human power. And when the powerful feel threatened, they retaliate.
All of this is meant to be good news, but it can only be so to those who align themselves with the spirit of seeking adventure of the Magi, not the shrouds of distrust, jealousy and fear that enfolded Herod and his cronies.