The Epiphany of the Lord
First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-13
Second Reading: Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6
Gospel: According to St. Matthew 2:1-12
The interplay between light and darkness is one of the great themes of art, literature, and film. The Bible is no exception, with light dispelling darkness as early as Genesis chapter 1, verse 3, when God says, “Let there be light.” Physical darkness often symbolizes spiritual darkness, and there was no greater spiritual darkness than that which encompassed all of humanity until the Nativity of the God-Child.
St. John tells us in his Gospel account that the Son of God “was the light of the human race” that “shines in the darkness.” He also tells us that this light is the Incarnate Word – the Logos in the flesh, using the incredibly dense Greek word that is so difficult to translate that the definitive Greek-English dictionary, The Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon, gives ten different definitions with lengthy explanations that cover five pages.
At its core, logos means “order” or “reason” and is the source of the English cognate, “logic.” All of this talk of light and dark and logos comes together in the story of the Epiphany – the “manifestation” or “revealing” – as the three Wise Men make their way in the dark, following the bright star, on their way to the Logos. The Wise Men, or Magi – the plural form of the Latin term used to describe the priestly class in ancient Persia – were men of science and philosophy who saw an order or logos to the universe and felt that to follow this particular star was to discover something important about that logos.
What they discovered was that behind the logos was the Logos, the one who ordered the order of the universe.
These Magi were representatives of the Gentile world, a world that stood outside of the Covenant that God made with the descendants of Abraham. And, therefore, a world that had to rely on reason alone in order to understand the logos of the universe. When they opened themselves up to the Logos, they were offered the opportunity to add the infinite light of faith to the dimmer light of intellect.
We do not know what ultimate effect their visit to the Holy Family had on these three men. We do know that they had the enlightened wisdom to see King Herod for the evil, lying child-murderer that he was, so they did not return to him to give their report on the newborn King.
Despite not knowing for sure whether or not the lives of the Magi were forever changed, we can still make a pretty good guess if we focus on the words of Matthew at the story’s conclusion. Matthew tells us, “they departed for their country by another way.”
In his educational philosophy, St. Ignatius of Loyola preached that his followers should lead students in by their (the students’) door and lead them out by our (the Church’s) door. Here Ignatius was aligning himself with the story of the Magi, and it would be fairly certain to him that the Wise Men entered the house in Bethlehem by the door of logos and were sent back into the world “by another way” – through the door of Logos.