09 Jan Epiphany January 7th, Archbishop B. J. O’Brien
There are two great truths that our celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany reveals or makes manifest. The first is that God is made visible in our world in the person of the Infant Jesus, because in him the Word of God from all eternity became man. The second truth of our faith which the Epiphany celebrates is that this coming of God in human flesh is for the salvation of all.
In the first reading, Isaiah gives us a picture of the Jews returning from exile to Jerusalem. In today’s liturgy, it is given a new interpretation. The birth of the Saviour replaces the return from Babylon as God’s great act of salvation, and the image of the nations streaming to God’s light is a preview of that day when the Lord will gather men and women of every race and nation to share in his glory for all eternity.
Similarly, the second reading from the Letter to the Ephesians announces that henceforth Gentiles and Jews share the same status. Gentiles are now co-heirs with their Jewish brothers and sisters and are “sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel”.
The gospel passage from St. Matthew continues this same theme of salvation that is destined for all, in the person of the Magi – these wise men, these foreigners, who come seeking the Christ Child. The message is that the Good News is not to be fenced in by distinctions of race, class, language, or sex, but is meant for all.
When we listen to the gospel today, our thoughts can certainly focus on the biblical story of how the wise men came to discover the Christ Child, but we can also take another approach; for if we look a little more carefully, we can see how the quest of the wise men mirrors some of the stages of each believer’s journey of faith.
If we follow this approach, the first thing we notice is how the wise men were attracted to Christ. It was not through the traditional channels of religious revelation; rather, it was by means a sign, a star, which was in keeping with their own line of learning and reading of the heavens. This is how the call of God came to them which would eventually lead them to the Sacred Scriptures and Bethlehem and the child.
This brings up the question, what possibilities exist in our own lives which would lead us to Christ or closer to Christ?
- might it be our appreciation of God’s creation, both in its immensity and grandeur and in its microscopic intricacy?
- might a journey of faith be prompted by some crisis in our lives, such as illness or some major change, or by our experience of love and new relationships?
- might the Word of God itself be what draws us – some word or phrase of Scripture which is suddenly understood or highlighted in a new way for us?
In St. Matthew’s account, we see two groups who are juxtaposed. There is Herod and his followers and there are the Magi. Although Herod hypocritically claims that he, too, wants to pay homage to the child, in fact, he is frantic about the possible loss of his power. He and his followers are blind; they have access to the wisdom of the Scriptures, but they refuse to see the meaning of what the prophets wrote. Their interest and concerns are elsewhere. In contrast, the Magi are willing to take risks. They are true searchers looking for the truth which will eventually lead them to the royal child.
The path of the Magi led them through unexpected suspicion and scheming and even placed them in peril. When we respond to God’s call to know him more deeply, we can recognize a certain journey unfolding before us. There are moments when all is tranquil and peaceful, when we may feel close to God; and other moments which may be more stormy and questioning, as more is asked of us, or as we face opposition or lack of support from those around us, or because of our own resistance to growth and change.
The journey of the Magi ended in success. The seekers became finders, and their response was to offer gold, frankincense and myrrh – gifts which recognize in the Christ Child kingship, divinity, and redemptive suffering.
When our journey of faith is successful, a similar transformation takes place. We want to be givers; we want to share what we experience with others; and we want to give something of our most precious commodities: our time, our abilities, our resources. In this way, perhaps, we become for another that ray of joy and hope that will start their journey of faith.
As we continue our celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany, let us pray that we may be attentive to the signs through which the Lord manifests himself to us today, so that we can journey forward in faith being a seeker, a finder, and, finally, a giver, as were the wise men of old.