Epiphany of the Lord Year: A
Is. 60:1-6; Eph. 3:2-3, 5-6; Mt. 2:1-12
The great British educator, Sir Ken Robinson, tells the story of three little boys, five and six year olds, who played the role of the three King’s at their Kindergarten Nativity Play. They came marching in before the manger with paper hats and each carrying on box. The first boy laid his box before the baby Jesus and announced, “I have brought you gold.”
The second laid his box down and announced, “I have brought you myrrh.” Now the third boy came down with sudden stage fright, but he plowed through it, remembered he had to put his box down but forgot his line. So he announced, “Frank sent this.”
There are very many Epiphany stories revolving around the three Kings and their mission to seek, worship and give gifts to the King of Kings. These and many other Epiphany stories are wonderful, but they concern mostly the gift aspect of the Matthew 2. The Greek word Epiphany means appearance or manifestation or showing forth, marks Jesus’ first appearance to the Gentiles.
“Epiphany” refers to God’s Self-revelation as well as to the revelation of Jesus as His Son. There is message that is fundamental to the Epiphany that we might not reflect on as thoroughly as we should. We hear this message in today’s second reading. The message is a message of mystery. St. Paul speaks about a great mystery that has been revealed.
As a privileged recipient of divine “epiphany”, Saint Paul reveals God’s “secret plan” that the Gentiles also have a part with the Jews in divine blessings. Hence in the second reading, St. Paul affirms that Jesus extended membership in his Church, making it available to all peoples. Thus, the Jews and the Gentiles have become “coheirs, members of the same body and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” Hence, there are no second class members.
The wise men came from the East. Ours is not the first age to look east for wisdom; the East has always had a reputation for it. The word ‘magi’ is translated here as “wise men.” ‘Magus’ meant different things: a magus was a member of the Persian priestly caste; or one who possessed occult knowledge and power (this is the origin of our word ‘magic’).
The Epiphany can be looked on as a symbol for our pilgrimage through life to Christ. The feast invites us to see ourselves as images of the Magi, a people on a journey to Christ. Today’s Gospel also tells us the story of the Magi’s encounter with the evil King Herod.
Herod was one of history’s great tyrants: he spared no one, not even his own family; to keep his grip on power he murdered his wife, three of his sons, his brother-in-law, an uncle, and even his mother-in-law. He had been appointed “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate in 40 BC and he had already reigned for over thirty years. He was in no mind to hear of a new king, especially one who was no son of his. “He was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.”
This encounter Magi with Herod symbolizes three reactions to Jesus’ birth: hatred, indifference, and adoration. a) A group of people headed by Herod planned to destroy Jesus. b) Another group composed of priests and scribes ignored Jesus. c) The members of a third group — shepherds and the magi — adored Jesus and offered themselves to Him.
FLASH NEWS! There will be no Epiphany celebration in Washington, DC this year. It’s because they could not find three wise men.
Tradition calls the magi “kings” – judging, probably, by the wealth of the gifts they brought. At any rate they came looking for a king. Where do you look for a king? In a palace. Who else is likely to be there? A royal family. But the Magi came to a cave or a stable where they found a poor family, with animals and perhaps a few shepherds. All the appearances would have told them they had made a ridiculous mistake, yet “falling to their knees, they did him homage.”
The Magi offered gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold is the gift for a king. Frankincense is for the temple worship fit for a priest. Myrrh is used to embalm the bodies of the dead. Surely, these gifts are not for children. Yet these were the gifts that the three wise men offered. They foretold that Jesus was the true king, the perfect High priest and Savior of the world.
The Magi were pagan astrologers called to the manger, called to faith. Their journey is our journey, the journey of people throughout the world and throughout history being called to the manger, being called to faith. The Epiphany is the celebration of our being included in the Mystery of Jesus Christ; not just included, more than included.
Would God include others in His Plan for their salvation? Yes, the Epiphany tells us, this was always God’s plan. He never intended to be the God for only one portion of mankind. Even more, all people would be co-heirs of the Grace of Christ. It was difficult for Jewish Christians to buy into the message of the Epiphany. It is also difficult for many of us. We tend to see life through our own limited frames of reference.
This is what St. Paul says that this was a secret hidden for all ages, this coming of the Lord for everyone. It is up to us to reveal the secret. We do this by treating others with respect, particularly those who are different from us in their culture or region or externals, but the same as us in what matters, their union with Jesus Christ.
Let us make sure that we belong to the third group. Let us worship Jesus at Mass, every day if we can, with the gold of our love, the myrrh of our humility and the frankincense of our adoration. Let us offer God our very selves, promising Him that we will use His blessings to do good for our fellow men. Let us plot a better path for our lives.
Let us become the Star, leading others to Jesus, as the star led the Magi to Him. Like the Magi, let us offer Jesus our gifts on this feast of Epiphany. The first gift might be friendship with God. A second gift might be friendship with others. This kind of friendship can be costly. The price it exacts is vulnerability and openness to others. The good news, however, is that, in offering friendship to others, we will receive back many blessings.
A third gift might be the gift of reconciliation. This gift repairs damaged relationships. It requires honesty, humility, understanding, forgiveness and patience. As we give our insignificant, little gifts to God, the good news is that God accepts them! Like the Magi offering their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, we offer what we have, either from the heart or the heart itself. Because:
“What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I could give a Lamb.
If I were a wise man, I could do my part. What I can, I give Him? Give Him my heart!” Amen