The mystery of Christ… that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body and fellow partakers of the promise… through the gospel… made known… through the church… (vv. 4b, 6, 10b, transl., T. Winger).
The Epiphany of Our Lord is “Gentile Christmas”, the thirteenth day after the Nativity, recapitulating the season and emphasizing God’s salvation for all. Today we reflect on the light of God entering the world’s darkness that men might know “the mystery… kept secret for long ages” (Rom. 16:25).
There was a problem between Jew and Gentile. God called Israel out of Egyptian captivity to be his “firstborn son” (Ex. 4:22) possessed of his light for redemption in the world (Isa. 49:6, 7); yet Torah from heaven only conveyed the mystery in muted types, veiled throughout the OT, not face-to-face (Ex. 33:23).
With the birth of Jesus, the veil was pulled away to reveal the mystery (Col. 1:27); the Babe, Son of God of Mary’s flesh now God’s Torah light previously through Moses.
Christ, out of heaven, was “to the Jew first” (Rom. 1:16c; Mt. 2:2; 27:37) that Gentiles not be overwhelmed by heaven’s light in the person of the Babe. God is considerate of man’s frailty, revealing his glory consistent with the humble estate of our condition, residing as we do in the dead of darkness (Lk. 2:8).
Christmas is of the Jews who, like temple prophet Simeon, anticipated Messiah’s promised coming and later witnessed by JB as one greater bringing a New Priesthood, an all sufficient atoning New Sacrifice in a New Temple according to a New Covenant (Jn. 1:15; 29, 36; Gen. 22:8, 14).
The Babe came to Israel “like a thief in the night” a manner in which he will come again fully manifesting the mystery (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 16:15). Ironically it was Gentiles following a Star who first announced to Jerusalem the arrival of the Jewish “King” on the doorstep.
Earlier the field shepherds betokened the gospel office of the Babe. Suddenly, with “shock and awe” they were confronted by the reflected Light of the Babe’s angelic army singing heaven’s proclamation.
The angels directed the Jewish shepherds, speaking peace in the Babe’s name; “Fear not” (Luke 2:10) they said to reveal God’s disposition toward men in a beastly world without heaven’s direct Light.
Jew and Gentile share this: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Sinful man has come to prefer the darkness of his ignorance to God’s hidden Light for long ages; still the gospel delivery from the shepherds is for man’s release, encouraging all who will hear, “Fear not.”
Gentiles mistrust Torah as parochial; Jews reject that grace is for all apart from the law, failing to comprehend the mysterious content of their own Scripture. Of course, the shepherds only marginally comprehended the midnight revelation; still heaven’s Light impels to more fully behold God’s peace with his church as with Mary “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51b).
Some two years following Jesus’ birth, magi arrived in Bethlehem. Contrary to modern translations, these were not “wisemen”; quite the opposite, the “magoi” were ignorant and considered fools by the Jews enlightened by Torah from Moses.
The “magoi” were Chaldean sorcerers and necromancers steeped in devilish arts. They were the epitome of all the Jews despised about Gentiles. You might well imagine the Jerusalem priests and scribes as utterly non-plussed at the prophetic news of their King’s arrival from “magoi” of which they were unaware.
Still by the grace of heaven’s Light these Magi were directed, perhaps informed of Jewish prophesy leftover from Daniel’s term as Magoi headmaster during Judah’s captivity in Babylon (Dan. 2:48).
Knowledge of God is the gift of the Father and wisdom is of the HS, whether to St. Peter confessing Jesus’ true identity (Mt. 16:17) or to idolatrous and superstitious magi; and so, these long-riders from the East followed the Child’s starlight.
The Magi reasoned the new Jewish king’s birth would occur in their capital city, Jerusalem; once there, they needed expert directions to learn of Bethlehem-Ephrathah. Refreshed by Scripture the Magi continued following the Star to its source, to behold Christ, the mystery hidden for long ages.
We pray for those who avert their eyes from the Light, refusing God’s grace and truth in Christ, source of the church’s existence. By word and sacrament, the Church catholic is engrafted into Christ crucified, our Jewish Branch and God’s New Israel remnant. St. John describes our Baptism, “he is in us and we in him” (14:20, 17:23).
The Epiphany proclamation is that the Babe’s Jewish lineage of itself is insufficient locator of God’s salvation. Jesus was born not merely “King of the Jews”; rather in the Resurrection he is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16); so that all enter into Abraham’s righteousness by faith, God’s sons and daughters not subservient to God’s law but oriented by it.
We, Jew or Gentile, like the shepherds and the magi are on journey in the Way of God’s light in Christ. Christians constantly ponder his word, the Psalmist calls, “a lamp unto [our] feet” (119:105). Enlightenment begins, not with “wisemen”; but in gifted wisdom from above by which we have faith and so, “fear of the Lord”.
Christian joy in the Light contrasts with those who prefer this present darkness. Antipathy toward the Light is inexplicable, yet today’s Gospel well expresses the conundrum, “When Herod the king heard [of the birth], he was shaken and all Jerusalem with him…” (Mt. 2:3).
Herod’s rage toward the infant King, from magi naïveté, resulted in the murder of the Bethlehem’s Holy Innocents, counted as “holy” for the sake of the Babe in whose stead they died, anticipating the church’s Baptism of infants into Christ’s all sufficient blood from the cross.
For “men with whom God is pleased” (Lk. 2:14) Christ’s humility coming into our flesh conveys God’s love. By the mystery, the secret for long ages revealed in the Nativity, none need fear God’s intractable law; Jesus having born the penalty for us.
Unlike Torah published on stone tablets, the church’s Torah mystery is written in the crucified and risen flesh of Christ, eucharistically engrafted into you, the place of our New Temple worship, the church’s mass. Our worship begins with Baptism and continues in our Communion of thanksgiving excising heart-flesh sin accretions for treasuring the mystery.
On the eighth day of Jesus’ birth a Jewish rabbi circumcised his flesh according to law; on the cross a Gentile spear circumcised his heart out of which living water flows (Jn. 7:38), the content of God’s grace for all. Amen.