“The star which they had observed at its rising went ahead of them until it came to a standstill over the place where the child was . . . They prostrated themselves and did him homage”
– Matthew 2:9-11
The Gospel of Matthew tells us of the first Epiphany, the visitation of the three “wise men” to Mary and her child. Long before the day took on the aura of a religious observance and became known as “little Christmas” and long before it became the last of the beloved “12 Days of Christmas” there was a greater meaning to this visit.
Matthew speaks of Jesus being born in Bethlehem, with no manger or shepherds. These details are found in the Gospel of Luke and speak to his, gentile, readers. Matthew, through his recording of the words and deeds of Jesus, presents Jesus as the fulfillment of Scripture and the ultimate teacher, rabbi, or wise man. Therefore, it is important, for Matthew, to have wise men from the mysterious East pay the child homage. These men, who were probably astronomers or early physicists, were known as learned and educated men- respected throughout the known world. The image is powerful and rich; the wisest of men paying homage to one they see as better than themselves. Through this wonderful tableau, Matthew is introducing and summarizing the authority of Jesus in one brilliant stroke. It is this recognition that will be explained throughout his magnificent Gospel.
More than simple a literary device, Matthew is drawing upon the understanding of the word with which those in antiquity knew. An epiphany is a sudden realization, or understanding, that arises from an event. The wise men realized and understood the authority of the baby before them. The rising of the “star of Bethlehem”, which was a cluster of planets that formed the celestial event, was that which was foundational to the understanding they showed in homage. Upon seeing Mary and Jesus, they were overwhelmed with joy and the realization of the role of this boy was complete.
Their understanding and realization came from nature responding to her Lord and by placing themselves in His presence. This lesson resonates today; see the marvels of creation and how they respond to their Lord and place yourself in His presence- see what you come to understand and realize about Him.