Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. (Isaiah 60:1)
We are the new Jerusalem yet what does it mean to “rise up in splendor”? To help us answer this we have the witness of the Magi in today’s gospel (Mt. 2:1-12). Three times in these twelve verses from Matthew’s gospel the Magi rise and follow.
First, the Magi have arisen to follow the star. The Magi are Gentiles, they are not Jews. They do not have the guidance of the Law and the Prophets. Their guidance is God at work in creation. “Where is the newborn King of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” They trusted in the voice of God as they best heard it. Trusting, they rose up and followed and this guidance took them as far as it could.
The Magi arrive in Jerusalem. Here the people of the covenant, the people formed by the Law and the Prophets, direct them. “In Bethlehem of Judea, for it has been written through the prophets: And you Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd by people Israel.” Yet again, the Magi rise up in order to follow. God’s voice in creation is fulfilled in the Law and the Prophets.
They find the “child with Mary his mother” and they do him homage by offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They encounter Christ – the Word of the Father and the Word made flesh – through whom all things have come into being (John 1:3) and the very source and fulfillment of the Law and Prophets. All peoples (Jews and Gentiles) are united in the revelation of Christ. Now after encountering Christ and being guided by the voice of God in creation and in the Law and Prophets, the Magi recognize the voice of God within their very selves, “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.”
Three times the Magi rise up responding in trust and in faith – to God’s voice proclaimed in creation, to the voice of God found in the Law and the Prophets and to the very encounter with God in Christ. The Magi rise up in “splendor” – a splendor not of their own making or doing but of faith in God’s will and God’s providence.
In contrast to the Magi we have King Herod. Herod did not rise up. Herod sends the Magi on to Bethlehem but he himself remains behind trapped in his fear, his love of power and in all the sad violence and division of our world.
There is a fourth gift that the Magi bring on this Feast of the Epiphany. To the Christ child the Magi bring the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. To us, the Magi bring the gift of faith. “Rise up in splendor!” they proclaim. Even in the darkness of uncertain times and struggle or maybe of loss, grief and fear. Even in the times of violence, division and lack of peace. Rise up in splendor! Walk in the ways of faith and in the light of God! Ours is a different way, because even in the midst of darkness, “upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory.”
If we receive and live this fourth gift of the Magi, this most precious gift of faith, we become a light even unto the world, “Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.”
Rise up in splendor!