Excerpted from A Season of Hope. An Advent Guide for Lectionary Year B from the North Carolina Council of Churches.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Most people think of the Christmas season as ending on Christmas Day; however, the celebrations of Jesus’ birth do not end on December 25. Following the hustle and bustle of Christmas, we have more time afterward to reflect on the wonders of the Incarnation. Epiphany is the remembrance of the arrival of the Wise Men (and by extension, the celebration of the manifestation of the divine nature of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi). In Spain and other Latin American countries, Epiphany is celebrated as El Día de los Reyes, or the Three Kings’ Day.
Differing from celebrations in the United States, this is the highlight of the Christmas season with children receiving gifts they believe are from the Magi, parades in the streets, and families sharing the special roscón de reyes, a traditional cake with a representation of the baby Jesus hidden inside. While Epiphany is traditionally a time of celebration and being with family, for many in Latin America and those who have immigrated to the States, this year many families will be separated and living in fear. They are separated by our broken immigration system that thrives on cheap labor from abroad, deports thousands of people, and keeps many incarcerated in private prisons. In a season when we celebrate the light of Christ coming into the world, they live in the shadows.
When I consider the great joy the Magi experienced when they saw the Christ child, the generous hospitality the Holy Family showed them, and the evil anguish of King Herod, I cannot help but think about the concept of home and what the journey of the Magi represents. The Magi were travelers from a foreign land searching for a child, a hope for a better world. It is interesting to note that the Magi only appear in the gospel of Matthew, and are therefore the first example of welcoming the stranger, a theme that is repeated over and over again in the New Testament. Jesus repeats throughout the gospels that welcoming strangers is welcoming Jesus himself, and this is first personified in the welcome of the Magi. Like the Holy Family, we are called to welcome with hospitality and compassion those strangers who arrive bringing unexpected gifts and blessings.
This Epiphany, I pray that all of the many immigrants in our country can find hope and comfort in the midst of their struggles. May we remember the words of Oscar Romero, who was a beacon of hope for the poor and the oppressed and was murdered for his beliefs, as stated in this sermon January 8, 1978 (Epiphany): “As the magi from the East followed their star and found Jesus, who filled their hearts with boundless joy, let us too, even in hours of uncertainty, of shadows, of darkness like those the magi had, not fail to follow that star, the star of our faith.”