Beckett: Commentary on Matthew 2:1-12, The Epiphany

Matthew 2:1-12
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.”

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.'”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship Him.”

After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it acme to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Here we have the Epiphany—the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles (interesting how Matthew records Gentiles as the first people to worship Christ instead of Jews). “Epiphany” is quite apropos to call this event, since the word means “a moment of sudden revelation,” and here Christ was suddenly revealed to these wise men/magi (note the text does not say 3 wise men; it could’ve been a dozen for all we know).

This epiphany came to them not in a dream or vision or some wild thought (as it happens to us when we suddenly get a bright idea or experience a cathartic moment). Rather, this epiphany of Christ came to them in “His star.” This would be a specific star—maybe even a temporary one, for we cannot say we see “His star” today, as far as we know. Perhaps this is in reference to “the sun of righteousness” that should rise (Malachi 4:2). What else is a sun but a star? This is merely theological intuition on my part. Someone much smarter than me should do exegetical work on this.

The Bread of Heaven was born in the house of bread (Bethlehem translated). God is certainly poetic, something this lowly poet appreciates. How fitting that the Manna from Heaven of whom we would partake in the Eucharist (John 6:30-35) be born in Bethlehem, the house of bread.

Also interesting is not only Herod’s negative reaction to this epiphany, but also all Jerusalem, the text says. Both Gentiles and Jews in Jerusalem were troubled by this Epiphany of Christ. How could the Jews in Jerusalem be troubled by the news of their Messiah? Don’t they know the Scriptures? Of course they do. Imagine the Devil’s grip on them, then, that they are so blind to such a palpable Epiphany.

So, Herod, in his conniving paranoia, tells the magi to find this baby and return to him with information of His location. God the Father would not have this happen, so He protects His Son by warning the magi in a dream to stay away from Herod. Then He uses Jesus’ adoptive father to protect Him, as we shall see in the text that follows.

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