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Today we’re celebrating Epiphany. It’s the 12th day of Christmas (yes it is in face a thing!). It marks the end of Christmas time, the arrival of the Magi. In many cultures gifts are exchanged only today, in remembering that the Magi brought the gifts, not the shepherds that birth-night. Many Latin-based cultures celebrate with King’s cake, or derivatives of that sweet bread. The word “Epiphany” means revealing, striking appearance, or manifestation of a divine being or more commonly for us – when we have an unexpected flash of understanding or an AHA moment.
The passage from Isaiah is from the chapters that we’ve been working through during Advent and Christmas. The prophet writes nearly 2700 years ago to his people enslaved and exiled in victorious Babylon. In their defeat, cultural genocide and religious cleansing at the hands of the seemingly all-powerful Babylonians, the prophet writes to give them hope. The poetry he offers is a sort of epiphany bursting into the darkness of their despair. Some things to notice as you read it include: the reappearance of the word “come” – when does it appear? Who does it refer to? Remember that the word “nations” in Hebrew refers to all peoples of the Earth who are not Jewish. Also notice the reoccurrence and placement of the word “you” or “your.” How is this a exhortation to expect a reversal in the world? Look at the physical beginning “arise” or ‘stand up’ – spoken to a broken, bent over people.
Matthew 2 is the telling of the arrival of the Magi. This too is a story of an epiphany. Notice in the story who sees and who thinks that they see what’s going on. The term “Magi” is often translated as wise men, but it probably means more along the lines of astrologers, scientist, astronomer. How many are on this journey? Notice that only the Magi refer to the one they seek as a king. Herod only says “child.” Why is Herod – and all of Jerusalem – afraid in verse 2? Who pays homage to the king? How? Gold was a common gift, fit to give to an earthly King. Frankincense is a plant resin used to make incense, burned to signify the presence of the divine and holy. Myrrh is another plant resin, used as an embalming element in the ancient world to preserve cadavers. What do those gifts mean? What’s the inter-textual connection with Isaiah 60:6? What does it mean that the Magi return by a different road?
Questions for going deeper: