Epiphany. Before I converted to Christian Catholicism, I knew the noun only as AHA! Something previously opaque suddenly made clear, like when I first began to understand the astounding complexity and compensatory ability of the human heart. But now the word Epiphany connotes an event. One marked by history: the birth of Jesus, the long journey of three men and the Baptism of the Christ which ends the Christmas season of the Christian liturgy.
Epiphany fascinates and impels deep contemplation and prayer. For me, that means writing, meditating and then more writing. This year I think about these unknown men, known only as wise. Seeking wisdom and truth, they are called wise because they somehow knew that their search would be found just in a Person- a particular, divine Person.
Who were they?
What was the source of their inspiration?
Matthew P. John posits that at least one of the wise men started his journey from India, a daunting trek of more than 2800 miles to Israel. Since India was one of the few countries where astrology had evolved sufficiently for the appearance of the Bethlehem star to be interpreted as a sign, others have suggested India as the native land of at least one of the foreign worshippers. Consider a journey like that 2000 years ago. How tremendous must have been the desire to pay homage to an unknown god.
The wise men are mentioned only in Matthew’s Gospel:
After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, suddenly some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east asking,
Where is the infant king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.
When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem.He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
They told him, 'At Bethlehem in Judaea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means the least among the leaders of Judah, for from you will come a leader who will shepherd my people Israel.'
Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared and sent them on to Bethlehem with the words, 'Go and find out all about the child, and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.'
Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And suddenly the star they had seen rising went forward and halted over the place where the child was.
In his intriguing book, The Wise Men and the Unknown God, Matthew John writes about the sprititual journey of the Hindu, one that begins with the recitation of the Gayatri mantra, ‘the mother of all mantras’:
Oh God, creator of the Universe,
May we receive they divine light,
May Thou guide our intellect in the right direction.
This prayer, claims author Matthew John, reverberates throughout six other traditions while pointing to the Christ of the Christian Bible. Not such an extraordinary claim, is it? The longing for truth and wisdom is universal; it exists in all human hearts. To be fulfilled, it must first be acknowledged in words. And then acted upon.
Whom do you seek?
Or what are you looking for? The very question that Jesus askes of Peter and Andrew:
...Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them,
"What are you looking for?"
They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher),
"where are you staying?"
He said to them, "Come, and you will see."
So they went and saw where he was staying,
and they stayed with him that day.
It was about four in the afternoon.
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter,
was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus.
He first found his own brother Simon and told him,
"We have found the Messiah," which is translated Christ.
Then he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said,
"You are Simon the son of John;
you will be called Cephas," which is translated Peter.