Reflections... 5 of 5 - Epiphany
Last in a series on the Christmas story…
Throughout much of Christian history the Christmas celebration lasted for 12 days from Christmas Day to Epiphany. Epiphany traditions in the church include commemoration of the Magi and Jesus’ birth, his childhood, his early ministry, and most importantly, his baptism. Epiphany also emphasizes the universal reign of Christ, exemplified by the non-Jewish Magi from the East.
Biblical writers were not primarily historians, they were theological historians, interested in communicating something important about God in the context of history. Matthew's gospel is interested in history, but it is not primarily about history. It is about God at work in history. His references to Old Testament Scripture such as Isaiah 60 make it clear that Matthew’s message transcends historical narrative. In Isaiah, nations and people from afar bow down before “the glory of the Lord,” and they bring gold and incense to the Light that has come. In the Magi, Matthew sees fulfillment of Isaiah's message.
Matthew also wants his predominantly Jewish readers (those very familiar with OT Scripture) to know that Jesus is the new Moses, the Messiah who brings freedom to the captives. However, this new Moses comes to free all people and nations, not just the Jewish people. This must have a been a challenging message for his Jewish readers.
Although Matthew's theological message is larger than just historical narrative, this need not mean that travelers did not actually come to see the baby Jesus. Word travels fast in a small town, so perhaps there were a number of people who visited this baby born in such an unusual circumstance. Perhaps those visitors brought a gifts, maybe even valuable ones. Perhaps some of those visitors had traveled a long distance to also arrive in Bethlehem for the census. And perhaps Matthew described such visitors and gifts in the context of Isaiah’s imagery in order to emphasize an important and challenging message to his readers.
What we do know is that Matthew wants us to focus on the essence of his message, not historical accuracy or supposed lack thereof. The Light of Christ has come to shine on all. Our call is to journey, to offer our gifts, and to be open to God’s many surprises.
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