In the Lectionary

January 6, Epiphany (Matthew 2:1-12 )

The wise men remind us that stargazing always involves politics.

The wise men who come to pay their respects to Jesus may well have been astronomers, astrologers, or some other form of stargazer. Sometimes they are depicted with an astrolabe or some other piece of scientific equipment in addition to their gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Such gifts further suggest status and wealth. Whereas we imagine barefoot shepherds making their way to Bethlehem, the Christian tradition made kings of these men.

Matthew says that they are “from the East,” though again tradition has intervened such they are depicted as being from different parts of Asia, Africa, or Europe. Indeed, given that Jerusalem can be seen to be at the intersection of these three great continents, it is easy to understand how these three could come to represent the three portions of the known world coming together to pay homage to the newly born king of the Jews (indeed, the king of all the world).

There is, then, in this text for Epiphany the depiction of an extraordinary hope: the peoples of the earth coming together united in their recognition of what’s important, all offering gifts to the ruler of universe.