Feast of the Epiphany
This weekend the Church celebrates the feast of the Epiphany. It long has been one of the greatest of the Catholic feasts because, together with Christmas and the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, it provides not only an occasion to rejoice in the salvation given us by Jesus, but very fundamental information about the identity and mission of the Lord.
Jesus long has fascinated people. These feasts give deep insight into the person and role of Christ.
The first reading this weekend is from the third and last section of Isaiah. After long, dreary years of exile in Babylon, the Jews, residue of the Jewish nation decimated generations earlier by the Babylonian conquest of the two Hebrew kingdoms, are able to return to their ancestral homeland.
The Holy City itself should rejoice. Its role is to be the venue in which occurs the reconciliation between the merciful God and sinning humanity.
Now, able to return to their ancestral homeland, the people coming from Babylon can make this ancient dignity of Jerusalem live again. The chosen people in Jerusalem once more, its wonderful status of being the place of God’s meeting with faithful people again will be real.
The Epistle to the Ephesians provides the second reading.
In the days of the first century AD, as the Christian community was gradually forming, a certain question arose. Christianity grew from the Jews. Its founder was Jewish. The Apostles were Jews. Even the location of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus was in Jewish territory.
Part of the Jewish religion was a strong ethnic sense. Yet, not only Jews were intrigued by Jesus. Not only Jews thirsted for eternal life. Jesus opened the access to divine mercy to them all.
This reading is among others in the New Testament that insisted that salvation is for all.
St. Matthew’s Gospel, the only Gospel among the four to report the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem, is the only Gospel to reveal this event in the childhood of Jesus.
Every detail is important. The Magi, certainly pagans, thirst for God. They, in a sense, represent all humans who search for God as they search for life, goodness, perfection and hope. The Magi find Jesus because God assists them. He gives them the star as a sign. He spares them from the treachery of Herod.
Very important in the story is King Herod. All his cunning and all his resources are no match for God’s will to offer salvation to the world through Christ, the Son of God. The play on the term “newborn king of the Jews” is a distant echo of the crucifixion when Pilate asked if Jesus were a king. The gifts of the Magi were those often given kings, namely gold and sweet incense.
They also brought myrrh, an embalming substance. It reminded the first who heard this Gospel and reminds us that the saving mission of the Lord, and the kingship of Christ, will be confirmed in the crucifixion.
Long centuries of venerating the story of the wise men have produced images very dear to us, but not in the Gospel text. The legend is that they were three in number, but no mention is made in Matthew as to how many Magi, or Wise Men, came to Bethlehem.
Leaving the number unstated gives a certain openness to the story, and gives power to the story of the Epiphany. Human beings from all places and at all times yearn for meaning in life, for genuine joy and for hope. All fear death.
Regardless of ethnic condition, or past circumstances, anyone can find God, in Jesus, if they earnestly turn away from sin and humbly follow the star that is the Light of the World.
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