First Reading Commentary
There are images here such as darkness covering the earth and the appearance of light which take us back all the way to the creation story in the Book of Genesis. Keeping the creation story in mind, Scripture tells us that the earth was void and empty and darkness was upon the face of the deep (cf. Genesis 1:2). Void, emptiness and darkness are descriptions that can be symbolic of sin. And Scripture reveals next that the Spirit of God moved over the waters (cf. Genesis 1:2). The Virgin Mary also had the Spirit move over her and when God said: "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3), the greatest Light of all was now conceived in the Blessed Virgin Mary. And why? To be the Occupant for that void, the Filler for that emptiness, and the Beacon for that darkness which formerly plagued humanity. In Genesis, God saw that the light was good (cf. Genesis 1:4). To say that the Light conceived in Mary is good would be an understatement. In Genesis, God divided the darkness from the light (cf. Genesis 1:4). That division of light and darkness literally, prophetically and symbolically has forever remained in tact.
The light prophesied here in this Reading from Isaiah comes clothed with the glory of the Lord. The opening verse reads: "Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!" Actually, "Jerusalem" is not included in the Hebrew text or Saint Jerome's Vulgate but is found in the Septuagint. It could be assumed that Isaiah is referring to Jerusalem or Zion as he probably sees it as the center of religious knowledge and salvation.
Nations, which means Gentile nations, will recognize the religious leadership of Jerusalem and shall come bearing gifts. It is upon Jerusalem that the glory of the Lord shines while the thick clouds which cover the peoples probably is a reference to Babylon.
Prophetically, Jerusalem is the Church to which all nations shall come because the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ shines upon her and through her comes the Light of Truth. Traditionally, three kings traveled on camels bearing gold and frankincense, as mentioned in this Reading, as well as myrrh which is not included here. They came to see the Light and proclaim the praises of the Lord.
Second Reading Commentary
"You have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for your benefit." What Saint Paul is conveying here is that the Ephesians have surely heard by now that by the grace of God, Paul has been made their apostle. The mystery he mentions is the divine plan in which Jews and Gentiles are to be united into one faith. Paul states that he received this information by revelation which most certainly means Jesus Christ. What is revealed in this revelation is the redemption of humanity by Jesus Christ, the vocation of the Gentiles and the command to proclaim the Gospel to them.
Both Saint Jerome and Saint John Chrysostom suggest that this mystery was not entirely unknown to previous generations as surely many of the Old Testament prophets understood God's future plans. But now this mystery has been revealed to the apostles who in turn have proclaimed it to everyone they came into contact with. The revealed mystery of Gentiles being equal partners in God's gift of salvation was a scandal and the cause of many of the persecutions of early Christianity. Today, we continue to pray for this oneness. Although hopeful things are occurring as a result of ecumenical dialogues, there is still a long way to go.
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, and yet others from Persia. Many interpreters speak of them as if they were kings, princes, or lords of small territories. Their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, however, may confirm their Arabian origin because Arabia was renowned for these items. The number of these wise men is uncertain. Pope Saint Leo the Great, in his sermons on the Epiphany, speaks of them as if there were three, perhaps on account of their three-fold offering (gold, frankincense and myrrh).
There are also 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 likely. The Wise Men found Jesus at Bethlehem, where His Blessed Mother was to remain forty days, until the time of her Purification was expired. And it seems more logical that the Wise Men came to Bethlehem about that time, rather than within thirteen days after Christ's birth; for if they had come so soon after Christ was born, and been directed to go and make diligent inquiry at Bethlehem, it's hard to fathom 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 that being alarmed by what happened when Jesus was presented in the temple at His Mother's Purification, he then gave those barbaric orders for the massacre of the innocent infants.
"We saw His star"; they 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 recalled 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" most certainly 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 fervently expected? Probably because the people, well acquainted with the cruelty of Herod, feared a more afflictive slavery.
"And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah" was a clear prophecy concerning the Messiah, foretold by the prophet Micah (5:1).
"And on entering the house" are words in which several of the Church Fathers in their homilies, represent the Wise Men adoring Jesus in the stable, and in the manger; yet others, with Saint John Chrysostom explain, that before their arrival, Jesus may have been moved into some small house in Bethlehem.
"Gold, frankincense, and myrrh" are gifts in which the ancient Fathers take notice of their mystical meaning. Gold was signified by their tribute they paid to Him as their King; by incense, because He is God; and by myrrh, (with which dead bodies used to be embalmed) because He has also become Man.
"And did Him homage" which can be translated to mean - they adored Him; therefore, in the Eucharist also, Christ is to be adored. It is of no consequence under what appearance He offers Himself to us, whether that of a perfect Man, a speechless Child as in this Gospel, or under the appearance of Bread and Wine; for in whatever manner or place our Lord 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 Jesus today, not as the magi did, in a crib, but on the altar; not His Mother holding Him, but the priest in Persona Christi, and the Holy Spirit poured out abundantly upon the Sacrifice.