As a young boy, I remember my friend one day pointing to me what he called as “the north pole star”. They were three stars in a line and he told me that if you followed the direction of the star, you would reach the “north pole”. Today as I recall this experience, I do not know how true it is but as a young boy I was truly fascinated by it. Every clear night I would look for this so called “north pole star”. Even today, on a clear starry night, I would still look for this star… though it may not be true but it somehow connects with my growing up years.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. There are lots of questions surrounding the visit of the wise men from the East. I have been asked… what are their names? Where did they originate from? Were there others with them (as depicted in the 1985 movie, The Fourth Wise Man)? In fact the Gospel of Matthew does not mention that there were 3 wise men as he says “some wise men”. We have concluded by the three gifts that they brought, there were only 3 men.
The purpose of this feast is not to examine the details of this event but what does it symbolise for us who celebrate this feast 2000 years later. As we know, only the gospels of Matthew and Luke have a detailed account of the birth of Jesus and of the two, only Matthew inserted the account of the visit of the wise men. There must be a reason for this because Matthew constructed this narrative for a profound purpose. There are three important symbols that he uses: the Star, the Magi, and the Gifts, and true to his style, Matthew makes connection to the Old Testament.
Stars – In the Near East at the time of Jesus, people commonly thought that each individual had his or her own star and very important people had a special star. That is why they followed a star because they saw something different. In the Book of Numbers it is stated that “A star shall advance from Jacob” (24:17). Matthew wants us to understand that this is the promised Messiah.
Magi – The prophesy of Isaiah (First Reading) speak of people who will come bringing gold and incense and demonstrates yet again that this child is the promise of God and the fact that the Magi came from the East shows that Christ came even for the Gentiles.
Gifts – The Responsorial Psalm tells us that kings shall pay Him tribute and bring Him gifts and fall prostrate before Him. This goes to show that Jesus is the long awaited King of Kings.
What do these symbols mean for us? Firstly, Jesus is the promised Messiah and there is no other. God planned this from the beginning of time and that He chooses to send Jesus to be like us so that we can see and understand how God is, not in looks but in His attributes. Secondly, our following of Jesus is not merely superficial, that is, just to be called believers; rather our actions must show that we are guided by Jesus, who is our guiding star. Thirdly, the star that we celebrate today must shine through each one of us so that we can guide others to experience Jesus. Just as that “special” star brought the wise men to the child Jesus, we must, in the words of St Paul in his letter to the Philippians: shine bright like stars in the world (cf. 2:15). Just as the word Epiphany (Gk. epiphaneia) means manifestation, may our feast today remind us that our lives must manifest Jesus, our Lord and Saviour.