Jesus, Truly King
User’s Guide to Epiphany Sunday
Sunday, Jan. 7, is Epiphany Sunday (Year B). Mass Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalms 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-13; Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12.
Epiphany Sunday is one of a few key moments when the true nature of Jesus is revealed.
He is revealed at the Transfiguration in a very obvious way: He shines dazzlingly white and is joined by Moses and Elijah in a vision that the three apostles share.
He is revealed at his baptism, also, when his Father’s voice is heard: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
But today’s Gospel announces him more subtly, adding layers of details that become obvious signs with a little background.
We know from the Old Testament that David was a Bethlehemite. Samuel found him and anointed him king in Bethlehem. On Epiphany, we learn that Jesus is born there, too, and honored by the Magi there in kingly fashion.
We know from Good Friday that Jesus is killed as “the King of the Jews.” On Epiphany, we learned that he was opposed by Herod, a man who called himself the king of the Jews.
We know from Ascension Thursday that “All authority on heaven and earth” has been given to Jesus. We see exactly how that looks at Christmas and Epiphany.
At Christmas, Jesus was celebrated by the creatures of heaven, the angels, and honored by the creatures of earth, the animals; at the Epiphany, he was honored by the heavens themselves, in the star. At Christmas, he was worshipped by shepherds who work with the creatures of the earth; at the Epiphany, he was worshipped by the Magi, who study the heavens. At Christmas, earthly powers directed Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem; at the Epiphany, the star guided the Magi there.
The Epiphany gifts show Jesus to be greater than all the powers of heaven and earth. As St. Leo the Great said: “With gold they honor the Person of a King, with myrrh that of Man, with incense that of God.”
The first two readings show that kingdom to be universal.
It is a kingdom for Israel. “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!” Isaiah says in the first reading. “Your light has come; the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” And there, at Epiphany, Joseph is by Jesus’ side: Joseph of the House of David, named for the great son of Israel.
It is also a kingdom for the Gentiles, as the second reading, from the Letter to the Ephesians, makes clear: “The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” And sure enough, there, at Epiphany, are the mysterious travelers from the East, leaders in the gentile world.
And if there is any doubt about who this Child is, Herod removes it by assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, who establish that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, information that the “three kings” of the East confirm.
So, what does all this mean for us? It means that the Epiphany is not just a great story; it’s the story —the story of God coming to his people to lead us and guide us in the ways of the world he made for us, the world where he is truly the King.
Tom Hoopes is writer
in residence at