January 8, 2017 — The Epiphany of the Lord
Today we celebrate The Epiphany of the Lord. The Solemnity of the Epiphany was traditionally celebrated on January 6 (the 12th Day of Christmas), but in the United States the Bishops have opted to move the celebration to the Sunday between January 2 and 8.
For many years now in the English-speaking world the feast of Epiphany has been overshadowed by that of Christmas. But unless we realize the significance of this great day, we see only one side of the mystery of the Incarnation. Now after contemplating the staggering fact that God has become a human child, we turn to look at this mystery from the opposite angle and realize that this seemingly helpless Child is, in fact, the omnipotent God, the King and Ruler of the universe. The feast of Christ’s divinity completes the feast of His humanity. It fulfills all our Advent longing for the King “who is come with great power and majesty.”
As we might expect our readings for this glorious day reflect the wonder of this Epiphany. Our First Reading from that incredible prophet Isaiah illustrates the special nature of this day: “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come; the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.”
Christ is the Light of the World and today is a day that emphasizes this. Initially we, each of us, receive that Light, but then we are called to share that light, to reveal it to others, just as the Magi did. We cannot shine until we accept and receive that light. That is what discipleship is all about. Now is a time when each of us must “arise and shine.”
St. Paul is called by some the Apostle to the Gentiles. The word “gentile” is one we hear often, but we may not completely grasp its meaning. The word “Gentile” is an English translation of the Hebrew word goyim and the Greek word ethne (“nations, people”). The Latin vulgate translated these words as gentilis, and this word was carried over into English as “Gentile.” Basically the term refers to a person who is not a Jew. In that sense almost all of us are Gentiles.
The importance of Epiphany is that the Magi from the East were most definitely Gentiles. Yet, they, representing all of us to a certain extent, recognized, accepted, and acknowledged Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The Epiphany brings us all into the fold in terms of Jesus’ divinity and saving grace. St. Paul makes it clear in today’s reading, as well as in his letter to the Ephesians (who were also Gentiles), that “Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise of Christ through the gospel.”
Our Gospel Reading is the story of the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus as reported in Matthew. It is interesting to note that this particular story is only reported in the Gospel of Matthew, not in the other three. Much is made of the gifts that were presented to the Christ child, but those may be secondary to other aspects of the story. It may well be that they initially went to the palace of Herod because that is where they might expect to find the newborn King. However, it soon becomes clear to them that neither is the Lord there, nor is it likely He would be there, so they continue their trek.
Yes, when they arrive at the place of Jesus, they present gifts, but more important they humbly worship Him. It must have been a strange sight indeed to see these holy and royal men bow down before a child. As pointed out by many this story really does manifest the arrival of Christ the Savior. He appears first to the Jewish people as represented by the shepherds, then to the Gentile. He appears first to the humble and unlearned, and then to the royal and educated. He appears first to the West, and then to the East. We need to share in the wonder of the Magi, and we need to join them in honoring and worshiping the Lord.