“The gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6).
The visit of the three magi to see Jesus in Bethlehem is another way to acknowledge that the Incarnation of God as a human being was not just for the Jews, but for the whole world. Jewish exceptionalism was rooted in tribal identity and blood, which limited the promise and covenant made to Abraham to his descendants, the Chosen People.
The idea of universal salvation was long debated within Judaism. As the first reading for today’s liturgy from Isaiah indicates, what God first revealed to the Jews was meant for all the nations, flowing like a great procession to Jerusalem in praise the tribute. Out of the darkness of their limited understanding, the whole world was destined to be drawn to the light.
The beautiful story of the wise men who follow the star depicts this same theme. Matthew, writing for a predominantly Jewish audience that was gaining more and more gentile converts, adds drama to the story to show how the scriptures were being fulfilled. Herod is like Pharaoh, who ordered the killing of Hebrew children to prevent rivals. Joseph, guided by dreams, takes the child down to Egypt. The gifts of the magi symbolize Jesus’ royal stature (gold), his priestly role (frankincense) and his death (myrrh).
The rich layering of the text takes nothing away from the immense mystery it holds. The Incarnation is the central revelation of the Christian gospel. Every other mystery depends on it. And what will take a generation or more to articulate in the New Testament and in the letters of Paul is that the divine life is now available to humanity and has already entered creation in the person of Jesus. His humanity holds the promise of eternal life. He is the pioneer, the Adam of the New Creation, and we are coheirs with him.
To believe in Jesus is to access this promise in ourselves, not just as a spiritual add-on but in our very flesh united with his flesh. By baptism we share in the life of Christ as siblings. Our adoption gives us royal, priestly and prophetic status. We are anointed to share both his life and his death as we make passage with him. His exodus through the cross leads the way for our exodus from the slavery of sin and the inevitability of death to freedom and new life.
The Epiphany invites us to go toward the light. In the night sky of every soul, where ultimate questions persist in longing and in dreams, a light appears that is meant to draw us from doubt to faith, from despair to destiny. God did not create us to live in the land of gloom waiting for death, but to see the light, follow the light, become the light that is the purpose of our existence, eternal life with God.