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What Is Epiphany?

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord (Matt 2:1–12) – January 7, 2018

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet:

And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.”

Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.


“Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” This may qualify as a quotable quote and taken out of context, may sound innocuous and even endearing. But it is known as coming from King Herod who had other plans, and definitely far from doing homage to the newborn Jesus!

The infancy narrative from in the Gospel of Matthew does not give the details of the birth of Jesus, but it does recount several events after that. This is the first immediate scenario, where magi or wise men from the east come to Jerusalem looking for the newborn king of the Jews so as to “do him homage.” It was a star that brought them to Jerusalem and that would lead them to the child in Bethlehem. Their efforts were rewarded abundantly: an encounter with the child and his mother Mary. This search for the child and their finding it brought them joy; they did him homage and gave him gifts.

Matthew brings in the contrasting experience of King Herod “and all Jerusalem with him.” At the news on the newborn king of the Jews, they were troubled. Why would they not be? After all, wasn’t Herod king of the Jews? Herod, with the chief priests and the scribes, looked for details of the place where the child was to be born—to search for him, not to do him homage, but to do away with him leading to the slaughter of the innocents.


We look at the gospel passage in our celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany. Jesus was born not only for the Jews but for the Gentiles as well. This is a theme that is consistent in Matthew and the other gospels. Here, at the beginning of the Gospel (Matt 2:1), Jesus was manifested to the magi who were Gentiles. At the end of the Gospel (Matt 20:19) we find Jesus telling his disciples to go make disciples of “all nations.”

  • The magi were enthusiastic in doing homage to Jesus, while Herod and those from Jerusalem were troubled in receiving the news of Jesus’ birth. Does the presence of Jesus in my life give me joy or perturbation?
  • The celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord is a reminder that Jesus came into the world for everyone. Do I find in myself the attitude of openness to people with another culture, race, language or religion?


The magi had only one goal when they were searching for the newborn king: that they might do him homage. Spend this privileged moment alone with the Lord giving him homage—giving him praise using your own words and language and bringing him your own sentiments.

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