The Light to the Nations

Epiphany 2013

Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance … the wealth of nations shall be brought to you .. all from sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense

Today the Gentile world rejoices in the salvation brought by the child of Bethlehem. In the persons of the three wise men from the east, masters of astrology or astronomy or both, perhaps even priests or kings according to ancient traditions, today in these three visitors from the East, the whole non-Jewish world is introduced to the Son of David, in whom they too, like the children of Abraham, are to find salvation. Isaiah the prophet joins the chorus of God’s messengers to proclaim that the Messiah hoped for by Israel will also be the Savior for all mankind: Nations shall walk by your light. Raise your eyes and look about, they all gather and come to you.

    They all “gather” prophecies Isaiah, all the nations “gather” and come to you to be their light, to walk by your light. The word gather is significant here, because the idea it expresses is at the root of our word Church. “Gathered” here means “reunited,” so the peoples of the world will be “reunited” in Christ, become the “gathering” of Christ, His Church. All mankind, without exception is to have but one head, one savior in whom they are all to be reunited as members of his body, “gathered” into His Church. All of this lies far ahead, and the wise men from the East are but fulfilling a prophecy in their long journey, led by the light of the star to the stable in Bethlehem. They are called by God to confirm the truth about this child, to fulfill the prophecy that confirms that He is the King of Israel, the long-awaited Son of David, born in David’s City, the Messiah of the peoples, their Savior and Lord.

    Of course the skeptics in our day see all this as Christian myth making, and would have us believe that the 3 wise men are simply creations of the Gospel writers, who want to make it appear that the words of Isaiah about the Kings and the gifts of gold incense are literally fulfilled, this supporting their claim that Jesus is the Messiah. The star especially bothers these skeptics, as if God would interfere with his own creation just to announce the birth of His own Son! But there are certain problems for these skeptics’ theories too. Why would the writers include the third gift, the myrrh, the burial ointment, which has no place in the prophecy of Isaiah, and may serve only to confuse the issue of prophetic fulfillment.

    And then there is the whole business of Herod, to whom they go to ask where the newborn king of the Jews is? Why would you not go to the reigning king to find out where his successor is being born? It lends credence to the factual situation. They come to Jerusalem to ask the leaders where there newborn king is? I suppose they could have been told in dream to go to Bethlehem, but God chose that they should inquire from the leaders of Israel. This all makes sense if the events related are facts rather than fiction. They are not Jews; they are following a star, but they do not know exactly who or where this prodigy is whose birth is announced by the rising of a new star in the heavens. They must go to the city of the King, to Jerusalem and get more information. Thus, in God’s plan they are privileged to announce to Jerusalem, these three pagans, that there is evidence in the heavens that a great King-prodigy has been born in their land. First, even Herod is to be given his chance to come and adore, but when he refuses, and plans a slaughter of the innocents instead, only then they are warned in a dream not to return to Herod.

    How God must be amused that men think that their fellow men, the evangelists, are the real creators of all this marvelous occurrence, and therefore they miss the beauty of God’s providence, the marvelous ways in which he brings the scriptures to fulfillment. The wise men are playing their part in God’s plan, simply by doing what they have been trained to do, to use their religious and scientific wisdom to look for marvels in the skies. They are likely unaware of how they serve a greater purpose in their journey, of how they wonderfully bring to fulfillment an ancient Messianic prophecy of the Jews. They simply remain true to their own lights, the light of their own reason and religious desires, and follow the star which has been sent by God to lead them to their destiny.

    After their long journey, they unknowingly fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy by laying at the feet of the newborn king, the gifts of gold and incense, which have a reference to kingship and Priesthood, and thus they honor the Priest/King who is the Messiah. Moreover, with their third gift, the gift of myrrh, the burial ointment of kings, God enables them to even go beyond simply fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy, and to become prophetic themselves, for the myrrh is intended by God to foretell the way the Messiah will be savior and king, that is, through his sacrificial death. The gift of myrrh confirms and further elaborates the prophecy of Simeon in the temple on the day of his circumcision, that he will be a sign that is contradicted. That this rejection will end in his death is now suggested by the unusual gift of burial ointment brought by the wise men to Jesus. This must have been one of those things that Mary pondered in her heart, and who can doubt that she saved this precious gift for whatever God in mind in the future of her son.

    But the clearest prophecy that God brings to fulfillment through this visit of the men from the East, is that the true riches that come from the nations to Christ, will not be the gifts of gold and incense and myrrh, but the people who come from every place and time in this world, the sons and daughters of mankind who come from afar, the riches of the nations, carried “in the arms of their nurses.” These are the riches that Christ desires, the people he came to redeem and make his own. This is what today’s events proclaim, that in Christ, all people are called to salvation, and that by faith in Christ, all people can become children of Abraham, inheritors of the promises made to Israel, that they will be God’s people.

    Finally, there is also a very important lesson we should learn from the 3 wise men today, that if we would be part of those riches inherited by Christ, one of those who walk by his light, who share his life, then we too must follow the star to Bethlehem and adore the child by laying our lives at his feet. The light we follow is not that of a cosmic light, but the inner light of faith, the morning star, as St. Peter says in his 2nd epistle, 1:19, that rises in our hearts, the light of faith, by which we confess Jesus to be both Lord and Master. Only if we faithfully follow that inner star of faith, as the wise men faithfully followed the celestial light to Bethlehem, will we arrive at the same child’s feet, and, like them, prostrate ourselves before him, offering him all we have, and all that we are. And only then will we find our way back to our true country, by following our King, wherever his light may then lead us.


Categories: Homilies

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