The Epiphany of the Lord | Year C
After Jesus had been born in Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him ‘for this is what the prophet wrote:And you Bethlehem, in the land of JudahYou are by no means least among the leaders of Judah,For out of you will come a leaderWho will shepherd my people Israel.’
Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.
The account of the visit of the three wise men to the holy family is a convergence of kings. The wise men are commonly believed to be kingsHerod was a king, and the interplay between these four kings was all about another king, Jesus. Three of the kings wanted to acknowledge the kingship of Jesus and the other king wanted to get rid of him. The greatest king was the most vulnerable and defenceless, the wisest kings were out of their home territory and without support, and the king of bad intent had all the contacts and military power needed to dispose of the other four. Herod relied upon the three kings from the east either being naive enough to believe he wanted to do homage to Jesus, or frightened of his power if they did not comply with his instruction – or perhaps he thought they shared his evil intentions with regard to Jesus. The wise men were operating on a different wavelength to Herod. They were tuned into heavenly communications rather than human instructions. They genuinely wanted to find the king of the Jews because they believed he was a king like no other. As wise and holy people they were not driven by personal gain or the need to eliminate someone who might be a potentially powerful rival. There are undoubtedly Herods in the world today. They can be found in groups of friends, in workplaces, in organizations, even in families. They can be found among the leaders of countries, businesses and even religions. When the motives of another are suspect, they often become the focus of the group. The danger is that others will be descend into the game-playing in an attempt to manage the person whose motives are personal gain and power, and who exploits or manipulates others. Rather than compromising their own principles the wise and holy in the group will take one of the approaches used by the three kings who visited Jesus. They will listen but follow their own lights (“Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising...”). They will listen to God and if necessary will avoid the person who poses a danger to them or the unity of the group (“But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod...”. In difficult situations and among people of suspect motive the most important communications come not from those people, or others who have been drawn into the game, but from the God who loves us and desires our good.