Epiphany means manifestation, ie revelation. Christmas is a revelation of God to man. It is God’s way of showing us what is best in man. What we celebrate at the feast of Epiphany, the visit of the three wise men, touches on what we understand revelation to be and how it functions. But unfortunately, our understanding is overly influenced by misconceptions.
At times we have problem with God on account of our understanding of revelation. Many have disowned their grandmothers, mothers or aunties and so on, in the name of revelation, hence causing family crisis where the peace of Christ should reign. We think that revelation must imply total overpowering of man by the divine leading to a disclosure that surpasses man’s understanding, a total suspension of man’s activities on account of divine intervention, a total surrender of man so that God can take over. But as we can see in this feast of Epiphany, this does not necessarily have to be so.
The three wise men, even though inspired to seek out Christ had to rely on human wisdom. They were priests of the zoroastrian religion. The former religion of Persia before converted to Islam. They (wise men) had a reputation for astrology (ability to interprete the movement of stars or some heavenly bodies). No wonder they were able to observe some spectacular astronomical phenomenon which occurred when Jesus was born, and linked the star to the prophecy of Balaam announced in the book of Numbers 24:17 about the star that will sprang up from the root of Jesse. Therefore, God reveals himself to us from what we know best. By implication a professor cannot claim not to see Christ in a poor suffering student.
More still, the fact that they went to Herod’s house to seek for direction, tells us that the guidance given to them by the stars was not absolute. From the report that they went in to ask Herod’s for guidance, we can deduce that their journey was not totally without human assistance. Our people would say : ‘onye ajuju anaghi efu uzo”. Since there were no maps and signboards those days, they certainly consulted with people as they progressed on this journey. And finally made Herod’s house their landmark point in Israel from where they expected to get clear directives on how to trace the house in Bethlehem where the new born child was to be found. Although the direction which Herod gave them was not exhaustive but rather very vague, extraordinary helps are not expected where ordinary helps are to be had, unless the later fails. And so, when Herod’s assistance failed, the star reappeared.
Two reasons could have led to the disappearance of the star. Either that trials came or that the three wise men lost sense of focus. Whichever might be the case, just as the pillar of fire led Israel to the promised land, star led wise men to the promised seed. We are therefore encouraged to remain faithful to the Star which the book of Rev.22:16 recognised as Christ the bright and morning Star.
Far more significant, on reaching Bethlehem, they presented themselves to the infant Jesus, fell down and worshipped him. We do not read that they gave such honour to Herod, though he was in the height of his royal grandeur, but to this babe, they gave this honour, not only as King (if not, they would have done same to Herod) but as to a God, who would tell us to recognise him in the poor, the homeless and the needy.
Nonetheless, they were not discouraged with the disregard of the Jews towards the infant Jesus because they were convinced in what they were doing. In the same vain, we are called not to be discouraged in our faith relationship with Christ as a result of scandals. If they will not go to heaven with us, we must not go to hell with them.
On reaching the house, the gifts they presented were gold, frankincense and myrrh as foretold by the Prophet Isaiah 60:6. Providence sent this for a seasonable relief to Joseph and Mary in their present poor condition. These were the products of their (wise men) own country. What God favours us with, we must honour him with. Some biblical experts saw significance in their gifts; they offered him gold, as a king paying him tribute, frankincense, as God, for they honoured God with the smoke of incense, and myrrh as a man that should die for myrrh was used In embalming dead bodies. These gifts found more meaning to God because they offered themselves too as living sacrifice. God had respect to Abel and then to his offering. Learning from their presentation of gifts, our adoration to the infant Jesus should not end at merely visiting the crib and dropping money. Rather we should extend it to making Christ our idol, identifying with him in the poor and being transformed by him.
Finally, the Epiphany reminds us of the universal character of Christ mission. The three wise men came from different races collaborating with each other without misunderstanding the movement of the star and so were able to see Jesus. Here in this Chaplaincy, we came from different parts of Nigeria, including non Igbo tribes. There should exist a collaborative synergy among us towards actualizing one good end which is to see Jesus. May God grant us this grace of unity through Christ our Lord. Amen!