The feast of Epiphany commemorates the appearance of the Christ in the world. He is the light that shined into our dark world and is still shining, because darkness has never put it out (John 1:5).
Reading Matthew 2:1-12 does not seem like much of an “appearance” to us, for we know the story so well. However, for the people in this story there were many (first) appearances, and even surprises. The wise men from the east saw a star that they had never seen before (v 2b). The visitors appeared in Jerusalem, asking strange questions (v 2a). The chief priests and scribes were summoned to appear before Herod (v 4). The wise men were also summoned to appear before Herod (v 7).
With all these “appearances” that Matthew sketched, he was framing the centrepiece – the appearance of the new King!
Matthew wanted his readers to pay attention to this wonderful event, but he also highlighted that everyone who heard about this appearance needed to respond.
So we read of different responses. Herod responded with fear, for he was a jealous ruler who tolerated no opposition. The people of Jerusalem also responded with fear, for they knew what an angry Herod could be capable of. The chief priests and scribes responded with indifference – or maybe with calculated scheming, to stay on good terms with Herod and keep what power they had.
The wise men responded with inquisitiveness and with courage. They travelled, asked questions and persevered until they found the one they were looking for.How do we respond to the appearance of the Christ in this world? To be more specific – how do we react when Jesus “appears” to us in unexpected ways? A friend or family member who tells us he /she is HIV-positive? The needs of children who have to cope on their own because they are orphans?
It is obvious that Matthew wanted his readers to follow the example of the wise men. But then it is also interesting that he did not write about them again. In the rest of the gospel the example to be copied is no longer the wise men, but the disciples.
Matthew wanted a deeper answer to the question, “How do you respond?”, than only comparisons with the characters in this story. He wanted his readers to respond as true (wise) disciples of Jesus Christ to whatever appearances, surprises or challenges which may come their way.
To think about or discuss: Why do we so easily respond the wrong way when we respond out of fear?