Sunday, January 4, 2009
The Epiphany of Our Lord
1. Two weeks ago, I learned that we store our camels and wise men under the altar all year long. Now we have them out and at our Nativity scene, we depict the visit of the Magi to Jesus. The image of the three Magi, also called Wise men or Kings is the most common image we have for Epiphany. There are many families who will exchange gifts on Epiphany rather than Christmas, both to focus on the birth of Jesus on Christmas and to recall their gift giving on Epiphany. But although the visit of the Magi is the most common image that Epiphany brings to mind, it is not the only image historically. In the ancient tradition, there are three Gospel readings associated with today’s feast.
2. There is the visit of the Magi as we have heard today. There is the Baptism of Our Lord, which we will celebrate next Sunday. And there is the Wedding at Cana in Galilee (John 2:1-11). In the Liturgy of the Hours, however, antiphons will be prayed that bring all these three traditional readings to mind. These Gospels seem very different from one another, so we might have the question why are they traditional readings Epiphany? What does Jesus’ Baptism and the Wedding at Cana have to do with the Three Kings? The common thread of these three Gospels is the word Epiphany itself. Epiphany comes from the Greek word meaning Manifestation. The feast revolves around the Manifestation of Jesus as the Universal Messiah.
3. At Jesus’ Baptism, as we will hear next Sunday, God the Father reveals Jesus as His Beloved Son. And He sends the Holy Spirit upon Him. Thus Jesus is Manifested as both Christ and Lord. In the Wedding at Cana, Jesus turns water into wine and reveals His divine power. John calls this miracle a sign. That is a sign of who Jesus is (Lord) and what God’s kingdom is about- it is about abundance.
4. In the first reading, Isaiah prophesies that the Light will come to Jerusalem, the glory of the Lord will shine. This divine Light is not for Jerusalem only, or for the Jews only. Rather, it is a light by which all nations on the earth will walk. Everyone will bring their children into this light. In the action of the Magi, we can observe the symbolic fulfillment of this prophecy. They came from afar to worship the Newborn King of the Jews, Jesus and to bring costly presents of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But the Epiphany is that the Lord sent His Light into the world to draw these gentiles to worship Christ. It was God who Manifested Himself and called the nations to him.
5. As part of the Sacrament of Baptism, the parents and godparents are entrusted with a lighted candle, to represent the Light of Christ which has gone into the world to illumine our hearts. The priest prays that the newly baptized will always walk as a child of the light. The Magi can be said to have walked in the Light of Christ. They observed His star and journeyed to meet Him. Even when they left to return home, they obeyed the will of God and went another way. This going another way does not simply describe their taking a different route home, one that avoided King Herod. It could also describe that they went home changed men. Having followed the star, having presented gifts, having seen the Christ Child, could they go back home the same men they were when they had left? No! They would have to be different because they light shone within them to guide them home. So too does that same light shine in us, as long as we do not walk in the darkness of sin.
6. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, speaks of the great grace of the Feast of Epiphany: that it is revealed that the Gentiles are coheirs with the Jews. We are members of the same body, that is Christ’s Body, with the same eternal inheritance. Our parish gives witness to the truth of universality of the promises of God. We have people from many different countries, many different cultures, many different languages and customs. Some of us may be of Jewish ancestry, but most of us are not. Yet we are all one Body in Christ. We are all brothers and sisters in the Lord. We all have the same inheritance awaiting us in the glory of Heaven with God our Father, Jesus our Brother as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary as our Mother along with Saint Joseph and Saint Michael and all the saints.
7. The three Gospels not only speak of God manifesting Jesus as the Son of God, the Universal King, the Messiah and Savior of the world. They also manifest each in their own way how Jesus will save us. In His Baptism, Jesus humbled Himself to be Baptized by someone who was not his superior. In His passion, Jesus would submit to the judgement of the unjust for our sake. At the wedding at Cana, Jesus embarked on His public ministry in obedience to His mother. His ministry would entail complete obedience to the Father including the manner of His death.
8. The visit of the Magi also reveal something about how Jesus is the Christ. For example, King Herod pretends to want to honor Jesus, when in reality he desires to kill him out of jealousy. And Herod is willing to kill many children to achieve this goal (Matthew 2:16-18). The gifts of the Magi also tell us something. Although gold, frankincense and myrrh are all costly items, they may not all be the kind of gifts that one would expect for one’s baby. Myrrh was used as an embalming ointment. Not exactly what one might give at a baby shower. But it foreshadows Jesus’ passion and death. In revealing Jesus as the Son of God and Savior, God wants us to understand Him fully. Jesus is Messiah through suffering. We cannot forget the cost of our salvation if we want to enter into the full glory that is our inheritance.