That is taken from today's first reading (Is 60:1-6), and aptly sums up the significance of today's feast. They all gather and come to you...Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you...
Christmas is a time of great joy, for it marks the arrival in human history of the Messiah, the great savior that the Jewish people had been waiting for. Not all of the people of Israel would recognize him, but some few would. Those who understood the meaning of the scriptures, chiefly Isaiah (which is why we read so much from Isaiah around this time of year). God had been preparing his Chosen People to receive His Son for generations, through prophets and angels.
But we should not limit ourselves to looking upon Christ as the Jewish savior. Seeing him as the Messiah only of a certain ethnic tribe, not all of whom even recognized him when he came, makes Jesus seem rather provincial. For that is not the whole story. Christ came to the Jews, as foretold, but he did not come only for the Jews. There were others in the world who were looking for the arrival of a great king.
...behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage."
This is from today's Gospel reading (Mt 2:1-12). The magi were a priestly caste from Persia. You can see in their name the root for our word "magician," but these were not men who pulled rabbits out of hats at children's birthday parties. What they did do was to watch the stars for signs of importance. And around the time of Christ's birth, they saw something of great importance; something that astounded them enough that they traveled a great distance from their homes to come to a small, backwater Roman province and pay homage to a humble child born to a carpenter and his young wife, in place of no political or military significance.
The magi were great sages and religious leaders among their people. They did not receive prophecy from God, or a message from an angel. There is no evidence to suggest they knew anything of the Jewish scriptures. But they sought knowledge and truth; which is the same as seeking God. They looked to the heavens for signs, the stars and planets, as best they knew them. They looked to nature itself, made by the hand of God.They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
What did they see in the sky? There is a wonderful DVD called The Star of Bethlehem which I encourage you to watch if you can. It details in astronomical terms just what was going in in the sky over that part of the world in the time leading up to Christ's birth. The motions of the stars and the physical forces which govern them all were set in place at the very moment of creation. From the beginning of time God ordained the day of the arrival of His Son on earth, and decreed that the stars themselves would proclaim his arrival.
The magi, gentiles not counted among the Chosen People, saw these signs. They recognized something special about this king being born. He was King of the Jews, but more than that. He was their king, as well. His kingdom would have no boundaries, and his reign would have no end.
Epiphany means "manifestation." It is in this visit by the magi, paying homage to the Christ child, that the universality of his lordship is first manifested to us. As St. Paul proclaims in today's second reading (Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6), "the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus..."
It doesn't matter if you are Jewish or a Gentile. It doesn't matter if you are black or white, European or Asian, or any other ethnic group. If you are an Anglo-Saxon, Jesus is your Lord. If you are German, Jesus is your Lord. If you are Cherokee, Jesus is your Lord. African-American? Jesus is your Lord. Chinese? Jesus is your Lord? Polynesian, Aborigine, Inuit, Egyptian... Jesus is your Lord. Even if you are a white-bread American teenager from a middle class suburban family, you have a king, Emmanuel, God with us, Jesus Christ.
There is nowhere and no one that Christ's reign does not encompass. His reign extends across the globe and into the heavens. He is your king, too. Come, let us adore him.
Have a blessed Epiphany! For more information on this celebration, including some traditional Epiphany activities and blessings, check out this link on CatholicCulture.org.