Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3a.5-6; Matthew 2:1-12
The church celebrates the feast of the Epiphany every year on the 6th of January. Tradition calls it as the feast of the three Kings who came to visit the Lord in Bethlehem having seen his star in the East. The Gospel of the day tells us of the three wise men from the east who went to worship the Lord. Tradition also gives them the name of Gasper, Melchior and Balthazar. Jesus born as the king of the universe now gives his first audience to the pagan visitors who had come in deep faith to see him and pay him the respect. The word ‘epiphany’ comes from Greek and it means a ‘showing’ or ‘manifestation’. The meaning of the word “epiphany” has its roots in the Greek language. The first part of the word, “epi,” means “upon.” The second part, “phainein,” means “to show.” By combining these two meanings, “to show upon,” we are reminded of the manifestation of the glory of Christ to the Gentiles.
The original purpose of the Feast of Epiphany, which had its beginning in the Eastern Church during the 3 rd century, was to commemorate how the glory of Christ was revealed to the Gentiles. The original feast contained four different manifestations: the birth of Jesus Christ; the arrival of the Magi; the Baptism of Jesus; the first miracle at Cana. Later the celebration of Christmas was held on December 25th and the Feast of the Magi on the 6th of January, particularly in the west. In today’s feast the emphasis is on the manifestation to the gentiles. Here are strangers, foreigners, total outsiders coming to give royal homage to this tiny child.
The Book of the Prophet Isaiah says: “They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.” The Gospel of Matthew affirms, “wise men (magi) from the East came to Jerusalem” and offered baby Jesus “gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Often we wonder why the three magi offered gold, frankincense and myrrh to baby Jesus. Surely, they could have offered something more valuable such as diamonds, platinum and precious stones. Now that has value! Obviously, it was not the goal of the three magi to offer baby Jesus valuable items. Their goal was to offer symbolic items. Gold was a gift that was fit for a King. The magi did not perceive Jesus as their equal but rather as their King. Frankincense was a gift fit for a priest. The magi perceived Jesus to be a priest, one who is an advocate between God and man. Myrrh was used to embalm the dead. While the magi perceived that Jesus was their King and a priest, they also perceived that He would die for the salvation of mankind.
We have the three readings of today. First Reading from the Book of Isaiah, speaks of a prophecy made about seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus. The prophet gives them the hope of the messiah and he will be shown to the whole world. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord. The Second Reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians tells of the commission of God’s grace that was given to them and how the mystery was made known to him by revelation. The Light of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, was revealed to the Gentiles
Today’s Gospel Reading relates to us the event of the three wise men that followed the star that led them to the Child Jesus. They followed the brilliant star in the sky. To them, the light of the star was a symbol of hope, of joy and of peace. To them, the star was but a small reflection of the fullness of the Light of the world that awaited them at the end of their journey. We are told, too, that they came “from the east”. This could be Persia, East Syria or Arabia – or indeed any distant place. There is talk of following a star. It could have been a comet or a planet that was close to the earth. However we are given a symbol indicating a light representing Jesus as the Light of the whole world. Thus the Feast of Epiphany is a reflection of the Light. Through the Birth of Jesus, we see the arrival of the Light in the world. Through the Magi, we see the light of hope, of joy and of peace to come. The wise men did not know where the star would lead them. They just followed it until it brought them to Bethlehem — and to Jesus.
Above all, today’s feast is telling us that for God there are no foreigners, no outsiders. From his point of view, all are equally his beloved children. We all, whatever external physical or cultural differences there may be between us, belong to one single family which has one Father, “our” Father. It means that every one of us is a brother and sister to everyone else. There is no room for discrimination of any kind based on nationality, race, religion, class or occupation. There cannot be a single exception to this position. The facts of today’s story may be vague but the message is loud and clear. We thank God today that there are no “Chosen People” whether they are Jews or Christians or even Catholics. There are no outsiders. All are called – be it the Mother of Jesus, the rich and the poor, the privileged and the lonely, the healthy and the sick, the saints and the sinners.
Finally, we might ask ourselves, what are the stars in my life? The wise men saw the star and followed it. The people in Jerusalem did not. How and to what is God calling me at this time? Where does he want me to find him, to serve and follow him? That is like first making a right turn at a crossroads and then wondering where you should be going.” The wise men did not know where the star would lead them. They just followed it until it brought them to Bethlehem — and to Jesus. They never, regretted their decision. Let us also imitate these wonderful men to reach Jesus.
There is beautiful anecdote of a person on his death bed. A doctor was present treating him. The sick man turned to his doctor, as he was preparing to leave the examination room and said, ‘Doctor, I am afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side.’ Very quietly, the doctor said, ‘I don’t know.’ ‘You don’t know? You, a Christian man, do not know what is on the other side?’ The doctor was holding the handle of the door; On the other side came a sound of scratching and whining, and as he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room and leaped on him with an eager show of gladness Turning to the patient, the doctor said, ‘Did you notice my dog? He’s never been in this room before. He didn’t know what was inside. He knew nothing except that his master was here. And when the door opened, he sprang in without fear. I know little of what is on the other side of death, but I do know one thing… I know my Master is there and that is enough.’
The Feast of the Epiphany: January 4, 2009
Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3a.5-6; Matthew 2:1-12