Sunday January 8, 2012
Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
I’ve already mentioned that most of the Christian world celebrates this feast on January 6th. But leave it to us Americans to transfer the feast and so January 8th (this year) is our observance of the Epiphany.
An epiphany is a revelation, a sudden understanding of something that had previously been hidden. What are we celebrating on this day? Well, we commemorate a particular even, for starters. Our Gospel reading focuses on the story of the Magi — the wise men — who came from the East, following a star, to pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews.
Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.
You may be asking: “Aren’t Christians opposed to astrology?” Yes. But I’ve always understood this part of the story to indicate that God, who is creator of all and Lord of all, can use all things to lead men to His Son. But that’s just my two cents. The point is that they inadvertently went to the wrong guy to ask that question. So much is bound up in this passage. So many other events are triggered by their words. Herod, blinded to the truth of the prophets and thinking a new king would threaten his potency, became enraged. In actuality, Herod wasn’t a terrible guy up until this point. He had, after all, constructed a major renovation of the Temple grounds. But when the Magi left him he began to plot to kill the Child Jesus. Here we see that from the moment of his birth, Our Blessed Lord, was already facing death. But it was not His time…
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
Here we get to the real heart of the story. After the shepherds, this is the first real recognition of Jesus as the King of the Jews. Here we see earthly power kneeling before the king of heaven and earth. And what of their gifts? Gold, frankincense, and myrrh… Although all three could be considered traditional gifts to give a king; the deeper meaning is much richer. The gold is a symbol of kingship outright. The frankincense is symbolic of deity (prayers rising to God which is symbolized by the smoke of burning incense). But the myrrh is perhaps most troubling to the heart of the Virgin Mother. Myrrh is a burial spice, an aloe for embalming. Not only did Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar (the traditional names for the Magi) recognize the King of Kings in the Christ child, they recognized exactly who He was and, though they might not have known exactly why or how, they recognized that He would die for us.
What I take away from this tender yet jarring moment in Our Lord’s life is the need for all of us to be magi. We are called to recognize Him in the most unlikely of places — to see Him in the newborn, to lavish him with gifts in the person of the poor and weak. We should never tire of traveling in search of Him, following all the signs He gives us as He calls us throughout our life. And when we find Him we must fall to our knees and spend that quiet time with Him. This is, after all, why He created us and why He became one of us and why He asks us to give ourselves to Him.
Quoted passages excerpted from Mt. 2:1-12.