Epiphany of the Lord (Matthew 2:1-12)
The Greek word Epiphany (επιφάνεια), means appearance or manifestation. First, the angels revealed Jesus to the shepherds. In the Western Church, the Feast of the Epiphany celebrates Jesus’ first appearance to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi, while in the Eastern Church, the feast is the commemoration of the baptism of Christ where the Father and the Holy Spirit gave combined testimony to Jesus’ identity as Son of God. Later, in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus revealed himself as the promised Messiah, and at Cana Jesus revealed his Divinity by transforming water into wine. These multiple revelations are all suggested by the Feast of the Epiphany.
The Epiphany is a solemn feast loaded with wonderful imagery. We have the star, the kings, their gifts, the wondering mother and father, and the babe that made the journey complete. Recently I heard somebody telling a story about the three wise men, Gaspar, Balthassar and Melchior. They were kings from the orient with three different ages. Gaspar was a young man, Balthassar a middle aged man and Melchior an elderly man. They found a cave where the Child Jesus was and entered to do him homage one at a time. Melchior the old man entered first. He found an old man like himself in the cave. They shared stories and spoke of memory and gratitude. Middle aged Balthassar entered next. He found a man his own age there. They spoke passionately about leadership and responsibility. Young Gaspar was the last to enter. He found a young prophet waiting for him. They spoke about reform and promise. Afterward when the three kings spoke to each other about their encounter with the Christ, they were shocked at each other’s stories. So they got their gifts of gold frankincense and myrrh and together all three went into the cave. Then they found a baby there, the infant Jesus only twelve days old.
There is a deep message here. Jesus reveals himself to all people, at all stages of their lives, whether they are Jew or Gentile. Our pictures of Jesus are basically those as conceived by Western European artists. That’s OK, but Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew. If you were to go to Mexico, representations of Jesus would be that of a Mexican or an Asian in many places in the East. That is all acceptable, because Jesus has revealed himself of coming for all people, all places. In the Second reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul says that this is the great secret of the ages: that the Christ came not just for the Jews but to be one with all people, Gentiles or non-Jews alike.
As Christian we believe that our religion possesses the fullness of truth. But what does that benefit us if we do not walk in the truth? Nature worshippers or non-believers who are sincerely committed to following the dim light of natural reason may arrive at Jesus before Christians who have the exalted truths revealed by God but who do not walk the walk of faith. This is the challenging truth we celebrate today in the story of the pagan wise men who seek and find the Lord. So many people throughout the world are walking in darkness. Their lives are a nonsensical wandering from one pointless, frustrating experience to another. They seek light but do not know where to find it. The reason they do not find the star is they do not follow a star.
To find the light we will have to follow a star. That star is within us and around us. The star leading us to the Lord is our vocation, the call that God gives each of us in life. Our vocation may be as husband or wife, mother or father, priest or committed single. The circumstances of life by which each of us define ourselves are our stars. We each have a star. We each have a unique call from God. That star is moving, because God never stops calling us. We have to follow that call, follow that star to find Christ our light, as the Magi did. Are you ready to follow your vocation with greater commitment and fidelity? Then you will find the messiah.
The wise men are a splendid example of spiritual diligence. Consider what it must have cost them to travel, in money, in time and in dangers? What about your diligence? Are you willing to pay the price to find Christ, to serve him to worship him? The wise men traveled at great costs and risk to worship Jesus. Unfortunately many Christians won’t even take the time to attend a Sunday mass, or stay for the whole time or even take the pain to participate in the sacraments with a state of grace. As the wise men from the east are you willing to make the effort to find, worship, and serve this great King? As stated on a popular bumper- sticker: “Wise men still seek Him”
It is interesting to note what Wikipedia, the most sought –after-reference- web site, explains the word epiphany. An epiphany is an experience of sudden and striking realization. As it had happened with Sir Isaac Newton. Hitherto unexplained, a falling apple made him realize that everything falls down because of the gravitational force exerted by the earth. Thus epiphany is a situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective. It was not even in the wildest dreams of anyone that a helpless babe born in a manger could be Son of God, the promised savior the Israelites were waiting for. Neither the religious and political leaders nor the devout ordinary men had a clue. But the magi sharp in their observation could not take away their attention from a particular star in the story which appears, disappears, leads and then stands over a house. They watched, followed and dare to be guided by the star. And Lo! Here happens the miracle of epiphany. Thus they had that enlightening realization of epiphany. God became man and dwelt among us.
A beggar begging for a living had been an ordinary scenario but an epiphany changed Sr. Agnes to Mother Teresa. This epiphany made her take up a fourth vow and she was to give wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor. And now millions live happily solely due to her responding to the epiphany she had.
Epiphany! Three wise men bent their knees in front of a silly babe born in a manger! Epiphany! An ordinary nun turns to be the most revered lady in the world for serving the poorest of the poor. Epiphany! We need epiphanies. Let us open our eyes and ears and all the more our hearts to witness and become part of that epiphany. A moment of ignorance and we may miss it badly. We need epiphanies so that there shall be peace, love and courage abound in this new year.