First Reading Commentary
In the first verse the word “Jerusalem” is not found in the ancient Hebrew text or Saint Jerome’s Latin Vulgate but is found in the Greek Septuagint. A few things in this passage may refer to the earthly Jerusalem, though Isaiah prophetically speaks mainly of the heavenly Jerusalem and the Church.
“The glory of the Lord shines upon you” refers to Christ coming to save us.
“Thick clouds cover the peoples,” in the prophetic sense, is referring to those who walk in darkness until they embrace Jesus as Lord; in the literal sense, it is referring to the Babylonian captivity.
“Nations shall walk by your light” is the light of truth which can be found in the Church. “And kings by your shining radiance”; this verse is a prophecy that was fulfilled by the Wise Men or Magi.
“They all come to you” is literally a reference to freedom from Babylonian captivity and prophetically speaks of the continuous growth of the Church.
“Ephah” was Abraham’s grandson, who dwelt near his father, “Midian,” in Arabia which was famous for camels.
“Bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord” is another prophecy about the Magi.
Second Reading Commentary
The words, “you have heard” does not imply a doubt or a rumor that needs to be confirmed or denied, but is stating a fact. The word “stewardship” is used to signify the manner by which something is done or put into execution. The sense here, therefore, is to show that what was put into execution is the grace of God and it is grace that made Saint Paul an apostle.
“The mystery was made known to me by revelation”; this mystery that Saint Paul is referring to is that Christ came into the world, and by the preaching of His Gospel, all nations, both Jew and Gentile, should be united into one Church by one and the same faith. It was “by revelation” that Saint Paul received this, which means that he didn’t receive it from a man or woman, nor did he learn it, but it came straight from Jesus Christ. This revelation seems to have regarded principally three things:
1. The redemption and justification of mankind by Jesus.
2. The invocation of the Gentiles.
3. A positive command to announce the Gospel to them.
Both Saint Jerome and Saint John Chrysostom take notice that Saint Paul does not absolutely say that the mystery was not known, but only that it was known in its fullness after it was revealed to the apostles. For whether by this mystery we understand the Incarnation of Christ, or the uniting of the Jews and Gentiles into one Church, it’s probable that both were revealed to Abraham, David, and many prophets in the time of the Law, but now it is revealed and made known to all.
King Herod the Great, much to the surprise of many was an observant Jew; and this may be the reason why he was so fearful to hear about the birth of the King of the Jews.
Saint Jerome tells us that this city is called Bethlehem of Judea, to distinguish it from another Bethlehem, which was situated in the division of the tribe of Zebulon.
Both the Latin and Greek text signify the “Magi” as wise philosophers and astronomers. They came from the east; some say Arabia, others from Chaldea, others from Persia. Many interpreters speak of them as if they had been kings, princes, or lords of some small territories.
The number of these Wise Men is uncertain. Saint Leo the Great, in his sermons on the Epiphany, speaks of them as if they were three men, perhaps on account of their three-fold offerings (gold, frankincense and myrrh).
There are also very different opinions as to the time that the star appeared to the Magi, whether before Christ’s birth, or about the very time He was born, which seems more probable. The Wise Men found Jesus at Bethlehem, where His Blessed Mother was to remain forty days, till the time that her purification was expired. And it seems most probable that the Wise Men came to Bethlehem about that time, rather than within thirteen days after Christ’s birth; for had they come so soon after Christ was born, and been directed to go, and make diligent inquiry at Bethlehem, which was about five miles from Jerusalem, it’s hard to believe that so suspicious and jealous a ruler as Herod was, would have waited almost a month for their return without searching for the newborn King. But it is likely, being again alarmed by what happened when Jesus was presented in the temple at His Mother’s purification, he thereupon gave those cruel and barbarous orders for the massacre of those innocent infants.
“We saw His star”; the Magi knew it to be His star, either by some prophecy among them, or by divine revelation. It is not known for certain whether it guided them during the whole course of their journey from the east to Jerusalem. The Magi may have preserved the remembrance of the prophecy of Balaam, which had announced the coming of the Messiah by the emblem of a star (cf. Numbers 24:17), which was to arise from Jacob.
“When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled” through fear of losing his kingdom, which he had obtained by violence. But why was all of Jerusalem alarmed at the news of a king so long and so ardently expected? Because the people, well acquainted with the cruelty of Herod, feared a more vexing slavery.
“And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah”; this was a clear prophecy concerning the Messiah, foretold by the prophet Micah.
“And on entering the house”; with these words several of the Fathers in their homilies, represent the Wise Men adoring Jesus in the stable, and in the manger. Yet others, with Saint John Chrysostom take notice, that before their arrival, Jesus may have been removed into some little house in Bethlehem.
With “gold, frankincense, and myrrh” the ancient Fathers observe the mystical signification of these offerings: Gold was signified by their tribute they paid to Him, as their King; by incense, that He was God; and by myrrh, (with which dead bodies used to be embalmed) that now He has also become a mortal Man.
“And did Him homage”; they adored Him, therefore, in the Eucharist also, Jesus is to be adored. It is of no consequence under what appearance He is to give Himself to us, whether that of a perfect Man, a speechless Child as here, or under the appearance of Bread and Wine; for in whatever manner or place He appears, He is true God, and for that alone He is to be adored.
For certain the Magi have left us an example to imitate. We see Him not in a crib, but on the altar; not His Mother holding Him, but the priest present, and the Holy Spirit poured out abundantly upon the Sacrifice.