Previously, Matthew explained the lineage of Jesus, and followed that with a brief statement of the circumstances of his birth.
Now Matthew provides the revelation.
Epiphany is a Greek word ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, meaning the sudden comprehension of the full meaning of something.
And indeed, Matthew does this in an extraordinary and rather shocking way.
Herod is introduced though of course he needed no introduction to Matthew’s audience. Herod was King, yet he was propped up in his Kingship by Rome, for the religious leaders of Jerusalem never had favored him.
Soothsayers or astrologers from the East come looking for the child born under a new star, foretold to them in ages past, as harbinger of great birth. Herod hears of this and calls them to explain. What he hears “greatly” troubles him, as well it might to any king who knows his power remains on such shaky ground.
Ultimately of course the Magi find Jesus and pay him homage, and then by way of dream, they return not to Herod as promised, by avoid him as they return home.
By strangers, non-Jews, we are advised that this child IS the one, the savior. God has chosen, not Herod, not the religious leaders of the land, but strangers from the East to proclaim that the Kingdom of God has entered into the world.
What a shock this must have been to Matthew’s listeners. How could God speak more clearly than to do something so utterly unexpected.
This should give us pause.
For we are trained to look to experts and our leaders to tell us what we need to know. We are expecting our “betters” to explain the importance of events in our lives. As children, we look to our parents and other adults. As students we look to our teachers. As workers to our supervisors. As citizens to our elected officials.
Yet God chooses not to introduce His son upon the human stage through the Jewish leadership, nor through Kings, no matter how titular. He choses foreigners, those who don’t share the faith of “his people”, if indeed we should limit God in such a way.
And we can be sure that they arrive by no simple error in reading the “tea leaves” if you will. No. We are sure God spoke actively to them for he warned them away from disclosing Jesus’ whereabouts as they had promised.
We, in our sophisticated lives have moved far away from seeking answers directly from God. We look in the Wall Street Journal for financial advice, or to PBS for political analysis of which candidate is best. We walk on by all those around, the simple people like ourselves, because we have forgotten that God moves in mysterious ways.
There are too many jokes and short little examples of how humans, in our determination to find God acting as we expect him to act, often miss his finger pointing out our direction.
What could three strangely dressed, strangely speaking men from a far-off land, have to tell me about anything we ask. Yes indeed, what could they have to tell me?
Are we listening? Are we keeping our eyes open?
Out of the mouths of babes, as the saying goes.