Epiphany (Year B)

We can glimpse the light of God’s presence; a light that brings us to worship the Christ-child, just as it did the Magi.

Crowd of people using a zebra crossing


First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6

  • The passage is suffused with references to wealth and trade: ships, camels, Midian and Sheba. In what ways does wealth link to the theme of the revealing of God’s glory?
  • God’s glory in the Old Testament has been pictured as a cloud that inhabited the Temple in Jerusalem; here, the glory of the Lord appears above Jerusalem. What might this signify?

Psalm: Psalm 71(72):1-2, 7-8, 10-13

  • What qualities does this psalm associate with Old Testament kingship?
  • To whom does this psalm refer?

Second Reading: Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6

  • Consider how radical it was that the Gentiles were now invited to become part of God’s people.
  • Notice the role of the Holy Spirit in this transition in understanding; how might we value the Spirit more in our understanding of the gospel?

Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12

  • There is much debate and many opinions concerning the star that the Magi followed; ponder what you think it might have been and why it is a significant part of the story.
  • Magi were priests and astrologers in the East; why do you think their visit was considered noteworthy enough to be included in the gospel?


Who were these wise men? The New Testament uses the word “magi” to describe them. When you read or hear that word, what’s the first word that comes to mind? It’s only one letter removed from the word “magic” and that’s exactly what these men were likely known for; they were probably priests, astrologers and magicians from an area influenced by ancient Persian culture (perhaps Babylon). They were, in a word, the last people you’d expect to recognise the Messiah, let alone make an incredible trek to do him homage!

I think it’s worth bearing in mind this intriguing aspect of the magi as we think about the events of this feast. Just what exactly was going on? And why?

The prayers of the Mass today, as well as the other readings, all emphasise the theme of light: it’s such a powerful image in the Bible as one way of describing the indescribable glory of God. If you’ve been following the Mass readings between Christmas and now, you’ll have read through the first letter of St John; he emphasises in that letter that God is light; in him, there is no darkness at all. In a certain way, this feast – placed at the end of the Christmas season – brings that theme to its culmination.

But this also raises a question. If today’s feast centres on recognising the radiant glory of the Lord and worshipping him, how does that fit with the baby Jesus? The Scriptures are very clear that if you saw Jesus during his earthly life, nothing about his appearance would have tipped you off that he was God incarnate. He didn’t walk around glowing with the glory of God; otherwise, the Transfiguration would have been a non-event! We can’t think of baby Jesus lying in the manger, radiating with great light!

There’s a little detail that is often missed in today’s gospel which helps us make sense of this problem: the magi, guided by their observations of the night sky and their own understanding, were able to come to the conclusion that the King of the Jews had been born. So they travelled, but not to Bethlehem; they went to Jerusalem, to Herod’s royal court. Put yourself in their shoes: that was a perfectly sensible thing to do! Where else would a king be born?

It took Herod’s summoning of the chief priests and scribes to interpret the Scriptures for the birthplace to be narrowed down to Bethlehem.

Likewise, for us, our eyes and our brains can only take us so far. The first Vatican Council taught that the limit of that way of knowing is coming to know that God exists. But to move from ‘God’ to ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’, we need him to intervene, to introduce himself to us; we need the Scriptures.

In reading the Scriptures, open to the Holy Spirit, we can glimpse the light of God’s presence, a light that brings us to worship the Christ-child, just as it did the magi.


  • Knowledge of God by reason: Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith of the First Vatican Council, Chapter 2 on Revelation
  • Knowledge of God by revelation: Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation of the Second Vatican Council, Chapter 1