Summary: Hidden until the coming of Christ, the Good News came not only to the children of Abraham, but to all those who are his sons in faith.
“He [the Word] was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (Jn. 1:10–12). This is the Christmas story, as told by St. John, the Apostle. We have heard this Gospel last Sunday. The words are a fitting transition into our celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord, also called, the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.
Why is that such a big deal? Well, I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I have to ask: “How many of you are Jewish?” Well guess what, then? You are a Gentile! You are a Gentile by birth, but a child of Abraham by rebirth in baptism.
Today, we celebrate that there are those who did receive him, those who have the right to become children of God. This is the mystery of the Gospel! Even the Jewish people were originally made God’s people not by anything other than God, when God covenanted with them.
Jesus Christ has come into the world (was incarnate) “for us men and for our salvation,” as we will soon proclaim in the Creed. The Messiah came not just for the Jewish people, not just for the Church in the East or the Church in the West, but for us men. He came for humanity. And as John said, to all who received him, he gives the right to become children of God.
Let’s look at today’s Gospel and see how the Word incarnate was received. There were three different reactions to Jesus’ birth. He was made Herod disturbed; the religious authorities dismissed his birth; but the Magi were drawn to him.
Jesus’ birth disturbed Herod and all of Jerusalem. King Herod … versus … Jesus, king of the Jews. After distinguishing himself as governor of Judea since 47 BC, Herod was proclaimed King of the Jews by the Roman Emperor in 40 BC. Herod the Great earned the title king of the Jews. He renovated the temple in Jerusalem at great cost. In 25 BC during a period of famine, he used his own gold to purchase food for the starving people. And Herod was successful at maintaining peace in Palestine, which, as we see today, is a no small task. But Herod was not a King by birth.
Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” and Jesus answered, “Yes, it is as you say.” (Lk. 23:3). Jesus was not declared king by the popular acclaim, nor was he granted the position because of he demonstrated his skills in battle or his superiority in politics. The Magi did not come from afar looking for the product of human achievement or of popular renown. They wanted to know, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” Jesus was born to be king. He said that his kingdom is not of the world. He does not rely on the Roman Empire, the British Parliament, or the American Congress to authenticate his authority. Jesus does not need the people of Jerusalem or you and me to declare him legitimate by our popular acclaim. He does, however accept our humble approach to worship him, as we recognize the authority that is in him.
Jesus’ birth was dismissed by the chief priests and teachers of the law. When asked by Herod where Messiah was to be born, they quoted the prophet Micah. Teachers of the law knew what the law had to say regarding the Christ. However, they did not know the Law himself, the Word of God. Jesus wept over them, “If you, even you, had only know on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. … because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Lk. 19:42,44b). They were satisfied with the pax Romana, the Roman peace, and did not rush forth to greet the Prince of Peace.
Jesus’ birth drew the Magi who came to worship. They had seen his star in the east. The birth of the Christ was foretold by prophets. The world was anxiously anticipating some response from God. The Jewish prophets had been silent for 400 years since Malachi prophesied that Elijah would come in advance of the Messiah. It was 320 years since Ptolemy conquered Jerusalem. 140 years since the glorious victory of the Maccabean revolt. 60 years of Roman occupation. 30 years of the reign of Herod. The Roman historians Suetonius and Tacitus both noted a general feeling that a ruler would rise up from the east. How many people must have seen the star? How many knew what that star meant? Yet how few left home and came to worship Jesus?