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Scripture Reflection - January 7, 2024

Feast of the Epiphany

Isaiah 60:1-6 | Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6    | Matthew 2:1-12

Sisters of Saint Dominic of Blauvelt, New York Scripture Reflection

Light signifies promise; it invites wonder and awe. A strange star’s light attracts the Magi, leading them on a pilgrim journey into a strange land and foreign culture in search of a mysterious truth.

Light troubles the darkness and threatens the powers. The foreign visitors diplomatically introduce themselves to King Herod, explaining their presence in his land. He pretends interest but is utterly threatened by their story of the star, the strange light in the sky. Indeed, “all Jerusalem was afraid,” referencing his scribes and chief priests who knew the scriptures and tradition regarding where the Christ was to be born. Light troubles the darkness, and the result in Herod’s case was the Slaughter of the Innocents, the first martyrs that we honored shortly after Christmas. Innocents are still being slaughtered by dark powers that feel threatened by the light.

Epiphany continues our Christmas celebration of the light that has been coming into the world since God’s first word of creation when darkness covered the abyss: Let there be light. In our first reading, Isaiah jubilantly summons Israel, long desolate but now restored, to rise up because her light has come. Indeed, the glory of God shines on her amid earth’s darkness. More than that, it shines through her: Israel herself will bear God’s glorious light in the world, guiding nations, drawing diverse cultures together, uniting all in peaceful worship. That vision of the unity of nations is the substance of the revelation this feast celebrates. The author of Ephesians spells it out: “The mystery was made known to me by revelation.” And the mystery is this: Jews and Gentiles “are co-heirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus…”

We do well today to remember that the Gentiles encompass all who are not Jewish; that includes Muslims in the Holy Land and elsewhere, practitioners of all the world’s religions, pagans, and humanists. It is true that Paul was speaking of Jewish Christians and non-Jewish Christians in his time because that was his whole world. In our time, we are deeply conscious of the global diversity of our whole planet. Indeed, in his gospel, Matthew paints a culturally diverse picture of “magi from the east,” exotic foreigners bearing exotic gifts. Biblical scholars identify them as priestly sages from Persia, astronomers who were pagans with a mystical bent: Mystical pagan philosophers captivated by a star that drew them on a pilgrimage leading them to the Christ Child.

What can it possibly mean that all of us humans are “co-heirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus”? What about all who are not Christians?

What if they don’t want to be explicitly identified as co-partners in the promise of Christ? It’s a mysterious truth that the birth of Jesus was a threat to the powers, just as the light of truth is a threat to the powers in every age and place. Edward Schillebeeckx points out that “as a mystery, [Jesus] is…never the exclusive possession of Christians. He is ‘common property’.”[1] Elsewhere, he calls Jesus Christ “creation concentrated.” That is, from a Christian perspective, God becoming one with us in Jesus entails becoming materially a part of the vast body of the cosmos. That has implications for everyone and for all creation; it is all-inclusive.

One biblical scholar says of the Magi in this gospel story: “Their astrological wisdom tells them that something in the cosmos is changing.”[2] Indeed it is. Today’s feast invites us to be part of that change by becoming intentional light-bearers in our world of darkness.

Sr. Kathleen McManus, OP



[1] Edward Schillebeeckx, God Among Us, 18.

[2] David S. Jacobsen, Feasting on the Gospels, 15.


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