The Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord
Jan. 8, 2023
Book of the Prophet Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72 1-2, 7-8, 10-11 and 12-13
Letter from St. Paul to the Ephesians 3:2-3a; 5-6
The Gospel of St. Matthew 2:1-12
Deacon Mike D’Addabbo
St. Louis Catholic Church
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. The actual feast day is the 12tn day after Christmas which would have been last Friday Jan. 6. Many of the Eastern churches actually celebrate Christmas day on the Epiphany. The tradition of gift giving for Christmas comes from the Magi that we read about today. The Magi brought the gifts on the 12th day after Christmas. The day of the Epiphany. Traditionalists do not open gifts until Epiphany. On Dec. 25th- Christmas day- the newborn baby in the manger did not receive gifts. He WAS – and STILL IS- THE gift- to us and all humanity. Jesus is “the gift that keeps on giving.” He has an inexhaustible supply of love, mercy, and forgiveness for us. All He asks for in return is our love for Him. We do that by following His commandments, living the Beatitudes, loving God and neighbor, attending Mass at least weekly, partaking in Holy Communion and giving thanks to Him for His sacrifice for us.
Now the word epiphany (with a lower case ‘e’) is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as:
“3) : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something; (2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking; (3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure; a revealing scene or moment. The same dictionary defines Epiphany in the religious sense (with a capitalized ‘E’) as “ (1) a church festival in commemoration of the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles or in the Eastern Church in commemoration of the baptism of Christ; (2) an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being.
We can have an epiphany in our everyday activity when we suddenly come to the realization of something that had not even been on our radar before. I like to think of those as our ‘AHA’ moments. Some of us may have had an ‘AHA’ moment when a particular teaching by Jesus jumped out at us and called us to a mission that we had never considered before. Or at work or home when a solution to a situation suddenly comes to mind and it works. That happens more often than you may think. For me personally it is those ‘AHA’ moments that I hope to guide me as I write a homily. A good friend once said “You are like the Domino’s pizza delivery guy. You deliver the pie, but it is the Holy Spirit that creates it.”
In today’s readings we hear about the Magi. Who were the Magi? We know they traveled from the East so they would be gentiles, not Jews. The song “We Three Kings” tells us that they are kings. Living here in Memphis it would be remiss of me to say that the three kings are not named Elvis Presley, Jerry Lawlor or B.B. King. Now that we have clarified that we also note the magi are referred to as wise men, so they are educated. They have been called astrologers. Astrologers look for the effects of celestial object positions, motions, and properties on the people and events on Earth. They are not in the business of fortune telling or horoscopes. The wise men would also have to have a basic knowledge of astronomy which is the study of the stars, planets, and celestial objects in the universe above the earth. This knowledge would be how the magi knew that the star they saw and chose to follow is unique and mystical. The Magi, as astrologers, followed the star. As astronomers they knew it was different and did not belong where they first saw it in the skies. They followed the star searching for the answer to the mystery of the stars’ motions and to see any effects that it might have on earth. Did the magi leave their homes looking for the newborn king of the Jews? We do not know. Their first Epiphany was realizing that this star was calling them to follow it to the newborn king of the Jews.
Timothy Cardinal Dolan wrote that he thought the Magi were disappointed when they saw the infant Jesus. They came to see the infant king and instead they find a baby in a manger in a stable, They have an Epiphany and find faith when they realize that the baby in the manger is the King of the Jews, the Messiah. Dolan goes on to give us the Lord’s Epiphanies- His revelations in our, in our lives are usually without trumpets, palaces, drama and glitz. No Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok or any fanfare. He
usually comes to us in gentle, unassuming ways. Our God manifests himself in gentle, unassuming ways. That makes it really easy for us to miss Him and His message to us.
The Magi’s first epiphany was realizing that the star they were following was leading them to the newborn king of the Jews. We do know that when they got to Jerusalem they asked where the newborn king of the Jews was. It was this question that caused King Herod to summon them. Herod, and the Magi, thought they were looking for an earthly king. This made Herod afraid of losing his power. Herod, after consulting with the chief priests and scribes where the child was to be born, learned the child would be born in Bethlehem. Herod summoned the wise men and instructed them to go to Bethlehem and then, after finding the baby, return to Jerusalem and tell him where the baby was. He claimed that he also wanted to go there to pay him homage. That was a lie but the Magi did not know that or that Herod intended to kill the baby. So, the magi continued on their journey following the star to the place in Bethlehem where the Jesus lay. They found the infant in a manger in a stable surrounded by animals. This was not where or what they expected to find when they set out on this journey. They have another Epiphany in the stable when they realize that this is the King of the Jews, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
The Magi brought gifts appropriate to give a king- new or old. They brought gold- a precious, valuable metal synonymous with royalty and wealth. The Magi brought frankincense which is used in worship. The king of the Jews would be expected to lead worship. He would use incense in accordance with local custom and traditions. The last gift is Myrrh, an aromatic oil used in times of mourning and death to mask the smells of death and decay. These three gifts manifest the life of Jesus Christ. He is the King of the Jews. He is the Chief Priest and Prophet. He would use frankincense in His worshiping. The gift of Myrrh brings us full cycle to His earthly death and Resurrection.
Incense is an instrument that we often use during the sacred liturgy of the Mass. We will incense the altar at the beginning of the Mass, then at the Gospel, then again at the altar and the gifts on the altar, the Priest who prays to God while he is transubstantiating the gifts of bread and wine into the the real presence, the real substance of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. And then, finally, we incense you, the people here partaking in the Mass and worshipping God. The use of incense is not just because it was one of the first gifts to the infant Jesus. The use of incense with its smoke rising towards the heavens is a visible sign of the invisible reality of our prayers rising to God. Just like sacraments are visible signs of God’s invisible graces.
After the Magi make their way to the manger in the stable, pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews and give Him their gifts they have another epiphany in the guise of a dream. The dream tells them not to go back to Jerusalem to see Herod. These gentiles, not Jews, have now had an encounter with Jesus. They have found faith. Jesus Christ, the infant, has already shown the world that he has come to be the Lord of all and not just the Israelites. The magi listen to the dream telling them how to protect Jesus from Herod and they go home by a different route.
I had an AHA moment as I was gertting ready to leave this morning. I did not really like this homily until the Holy Spirit gave me this. Starting today let us all be the Magi. Let us manifest Jesus to all the people you meet and see Him in them. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen writes that we must remember to love people and use things, rather than love things and use people.
The late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said that we are like the Magi every time we let Jesus in our hearts. And, like the Magi we will change our direction every time we listen to Jesus.
Remember our God is almighty loving and infinitely merciful. He is our God, and we are His people. God Bless you and may you all have a Blessed and wonderful 2023