Lectio Divina for the Epiphany of the Lord, January 3, 2021
By David Kilby
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.
When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
Who would be troubled by the news of the coming of a savior? One who wishes to put himself before that savior and king. Jesus was a threat to Herod’s rule, and therefore a threat to the stability of the kingdom. Even those who hoped for a savior, we could imagine, were troubled because with that hope comes inevitable tribulation. The coming of Christ would begin centuries of Christian persecution. I find myself in a similar dilemma when challenged to do the right thing. My heart is filled with excitement at the prospect of doing God’s will, but also filled with fear due to the hardshisp I know it will bring. It’s also similar to what God says to Moses about Pharaoh. He said he will harden Pharaoh’s heart. It’s not that God directly hardens the hearts of jealous leaders, but when God’s plan threatens their power their hearts are hardened by their own will to keep that power. All those who are under such leaders then have reason to be troubled, because they know they are in harm’s way. How often has this been our reason for avoiding God’s will? How often have we shied away from doing the right thing for fear of what some authority might do to us? What if the magi abandoned their journey to Jesus out of fear of what Herod might do if he followed and found the promised savior? Let’s pray for the courage to stay on the path to Jesus even when the realization of our fears is eminent.
from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.
God had his plan of salvation set in place from the beginning. When we don’t know how God is going to pull us through, know that all things work out for those who abide in him. For centuries, God’s people waited for their savior to come. Now that he has come, there is hope but there are also great trials that follow. God promised Abraham that his descendents would number as the stars. From some of those descendents came the great ruler he promised. Christ still reigns today, even though most of the world does not acknowledge it. Lest we forget, we began the liturgical year with the Feast of Christ the King. When we read the verse above, perhaps we are only thinking of a ruler of Israel. But God’s people, Israel, was simply the vessel through which he brought to the world the ruler of all the earth. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive its king.”
When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage
The first word that comes to mind when I read this line is deception. The ulterior motives of politicians are as ancient as civilization itself, and King Herod continued that tradition of corruption. That is why Christ came to establish a kingdom of heaven without heirs, without leaders bound to human nature, but ruled by one who has overcome it: Jesus Christ. From his infancy, people wanted to kill Jesus. That’s because he brought the one promise that no ruler on earth could fulfill, the promise of paradise. Christ remains just as much a threat to rulers today as he did to Herod. Civil leaders hesitate to adhere to Christ’s teaching, making all kinds of excuses, but the real reason is that they know in following Christ they would have to relinquish their own power. We who are not leaders are not free from this tendency. How often do we resist Christ’s commands simply because we want more control of our own lives? Even like Herod, how often do we cover up our own ill intent with false piety?
the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was
Those who seek shall find. That is especially true for those who seek Jesus. He is the truth, and those who choose to pursue and dwell in the truth will not be disappointed. They will draw from a well so deep that no amount of lifetimes would be enough to reach the bottom. They draw from the well of living water that makes them never thirst again. No wonder the magi have such splendid gifts for this newborn king. They understand the treasure that they’ve found. They know how wise men from ages past would have done anything to experience the historic moment they were experiencing.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
When priests are ordained, they prostrate themselves before the altar. This may seem like an archaic gesture, one that has lost meaning in our modern times. But a position of humility, and humility in general, is the proper position to take when you are before the God of the universe. Such is true also when presented with the wonders of God’s creation, something we experience everyday. Therefore, it really never is improper to prostrate ourselves and give thanks to God. When we notice how flawed and insignificant we are compared to the God who created us, it ought to humble us. The magi were not just doing homage to a king, but to the king. They traveled miles and miles to humble themselves before the one from whom all power comes.
offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh
Some people imagine that the magi were types of ancient astrologers, looking for answers in the stars. I believe they received their insights and incentive from Scripture. God asks Job in Job 9, “Who seals up the stars; who alone stretched out the heavens … who made the Bear and Orion, the Plei′ades”, implying that it is he, God, who does. Likewise, Isaiah 40:26, referring to the stars, says that God “brings out their host by number … calling them all by name.” For ages, people have looked up to the heavens, believing that is where their help will come from. It seems archaic, but when we consider the actions of the magi we see that the heavens put them on the right track. Psalm 121 starts by saying, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Even after Jesus ascended into heaven, the two men dressed in white, thought to be angels, say, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” So the magi knew not only the significance of the star, but also the significance of the child. Thus they brought him gold, representing his kingship; frankincense, representing his priesthood; and myrrh, foreshadowing his death.
Dear Jesus, we will follow you wherever you lead just as the magi followed the star. We believe that if we seek we will find. Give us the hope we need to stay on the path and follow you all the way home, where we will find “the child with Mary his mother”.
The ride to Bethlehem the magi took was probably quiet. They had nothing but a star to guide them. But a shining light like that is the best we can hope for in a dark world, just as the desert they rode through was dark. Let the way we listen to God today reflect the silence of that desert, where nothing but the star guided the magi. Let your attentiveness to God be singular like that. Focus on the promised savior in your contemplation and he will guide you.
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