Epiphany Of The Lord 8th January, 2017
Epiphany means manifestation. In the gospel reading of today the whole story of the Epiphany is told. Next week we shall read the story of the second manifestation of the Divinity of Jesus at his Baptism and the following Sunday, we witness the third manifestation at the Marriage Feast in Cana. Today we hear about the first manifestation to the “Magi” or “kings” who were more likely astrologers. Western tradition chose three as the number of the Wise Men and even found names for them, Caspar, Melchior and Baithasar. They offer Jesus homage and give him gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold because Jesus is king, frankincense since Jesus is divine and myrrh prefiguring his passion. We may perhaps say that we have no gold, or frankincense, or myrrh. That is true, but we have precious treasures that we can present to Christ, our Saviour and our King. We bring gold to Christ when we try and make him king of our hearts. We offer frankincense when by our worship and prayer we proclaim his divinity. And we can, in some small way, alleviate the pain of the wounds he suffered for us by applying the myrrh of our own sufferings, our sorrow, our humiliations and tears. The gospel reading puts before us two contrasting responses to the news that the long-awaited Jewish Messiah had just been born. Astrologers from the East were so excited by this news that they set out on a long journey to find the child so as to pay him homage. King Herod in Jerusalem was so perturbed by the same news that he sought to kill the child.
Today on this feast of the Epiphany we are asked to identify with the response of the astrologers, the wise men, from the East. They were people who were very observant of nature, God’s natural world, in particular that dimension of God’s natural world that came into view when darkness descended. They observed and studied the stars. Yet, they were not so fascinated by the stars that they worshipped the stars. They recognized that the stars, for all their splendour, pointed beyond themselves to some more wonderful reality, to God. So, when they heard that God was visiting our world in a new way through a child who had just been born, they set out in search of that child. These exotic figures from the East show us how being attentive to God’s natural world can draw us closer to God. This can happen in different ways for different people. For the wise men it was their fascination with the stars that led them to the true light of the world. God can speak to us in a variety of ways through the world of nature. The wise men teach us to be attentive and observant of that world, so that in and through it we may experience the presence of the living God. There came a point on the journey of the wise men when they needed more than the signs of nature to find the child whom they were seeking. When they came to Jerusalem they had to ask, “Where is the infant king of the Jews?” To make the last short step on their long journey, they needed more than the light of a star. They needed the light of the Scriptures. The chief priests and the scribes who knew the Scriptures were able to point them in the direction of Bethlehem. On our own journey towards the Lord, we too need the light of the Scriptures as well as the light of nature. The Scriptures are a fuller revelation of God than the natural world. It is in and through the Scriptures that we meet God in a special way and his Son. St. Jeromesaid that ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. The Scriptures are God’s word in human words. Through the Scriptures God speaks to us in a privileged way. He asks us to listen and to allow our lives to be shaped by what we hear. The wise men allowed themselves to be guided by the Scriptures, as well as by the star. They showed something of that responsiveness to God’s word to which we are all called.
Having been moved by the presence of God in nature and in the Scriptures, the wise men came face to face with God in a child. They worshipped Him, because they recognized that here was Emmanuel, God-with-us. We too worship Emmanuel, and we do so in a special way every time we celebrate the Eucharist. As the wise men expressed their worship by offering the child their precious gifts, we express our own worship of the Lord in the Eucharist by offering him our lives. We give ourselves to him in response to his giving of himself to us as bread of life. The gospel reading tells us that, after worshipping the child, the wise men returned home by a different way. Their meeting with the infant king somehow changed them. Our own worship of the Lord in the Eucharist will often prompt us to take a different path too. We come to the Eucharist open to being changed by the Holy Spirit. We are sent forth from the Eucharist to follow the way of the Lord more closely by the dismissal; “Go in peace glorifying the Lord by your lives”
BY: FR. RAPHAEL HESSAH