Today is the traditional day for the Solemnity of Epiphany. In another post, I provide all kinds of background about this day. It is a day that is called Epiphany, Theophany, and especially in Latino/Hispanic culture, Three Kings Day. No matter the moniker of the day, it is a day that something is revealed. But what?
When you consider the other readings for the Epiphany, there is an overriding message about what is promised, what comes to be and what is revealed. The first reading from Isaiah 60 speaks to a time in the future when the prophet proclaims a day when redemption and salvation will be available to all the world – and the world is pictured streaming towards Jerusalem, giving praise and glory to God. The Psalm proclaims the same message. And St. Paul simply affirms that this promise has come to pass in the person of Jesus Christ.
This is a day when the churches will all celebrate and sing “We three kings of Orient are…” but when actually looks at the gospel, there are no visiting kings. There are magi. Magi were definitely not kings. While they were in the realms of power during the Babylonian era, the power and influence waned as control passed to Persians, Greeks, and then the Romans. By the New Testament age, St. Paul speaks of them as charlatans – “snake oil salesmen” of their age.
Trust me, I know that this is like rowing against the tidal current of popular piety, but consider this: what was Jesus’ experience with the realms of power, with kings? In his infancy Herod tries to put him to death. As an adult, another Herod passes him onto his death. But what was Jesus’ experience with charlatans, sinners, and people of ill repute? Jesus went to those people. Those people were drawn to Jesus. They were the people who sought redemption and salvation and so streamed to Jesus. Kings and the people of power thought they were above all of that – and perhaps that is why it is easier for a camel to pass thru the eye of a needle that the rich and powerful to reach heaven.
Perhaps the visit of the magi is the infancy parallel to the ministry of Jesus – ever surrounded by the outcast and those on the margins. His parents are from Nazareth – and what good can come from Nazareth so said the popular belief. The first visitors were night shepherds not considered the most honorable or upright of citizens. And then the charlatans from other lands. Charlatans perhaps, but people who would give up their gold, frankincense, and myrrh – all that they had – in order to reach the One who saves.
I would suggest that what is revealed this day is not only the One who saves, the Christ, but who fills the roads streaming towards the New Jerusalem: people who recognize their need for salvation and are willing to give up all that is necessary to give true praise and glory to God