COME, LET US ADORE HIM!
A survey was made among school children asking the question why they enjoyed reading Harry Potter novels and watching Harry Potter movies. The most common answer was, “Because you never know what’s going to happen next.” This sense of suspense and surprise prompted us to watch the seven episodes of the Star War movies. The same desire for epiphany with the thrill and suspense awaiting them prompted adults to watch James Bond films and encouraged the great explorers like Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus to make risky and adventurous journeys. It is the same curiosity which led the Magi to follow the star of Bethlehem. An element of suspense marked every moment in the journey of the Magi, who never knew what road the Spirit of God was going to take them down next. Today’s readings invite us to have the same curiosity as explorers and movie fans do, so that we may discover the “epiphany” or manifestation or self- revelation of our God in everyone and every event, everywhere.
In today’s First Reading Isaiah prophesies about a time of glory and splendor for Israel. This great time is represented by the symbol of light, when “the Lord shines.” This light that will come to the Israelites is intended not just for them but for all people, for “nations shall walk by your light.” Other nations (i.e. the Gentiles), in fact, will come with gifts to Israel in order to worship the Lord. These gifts include “gold and frankincense.” Thus, the fact that the Magi bring gifts of “gold and frankincense” (as told in the Gospel reading) shows that the fulfillment of this prophesy comes with the birth of Jesus. He is the “light of the world” (see John 8:12) and people from all nations (represented first by the magi) come to give Him gifts and worship Him.
In the Second Reading, the Apostle Paul speaks of God’s plan of salvation for humanity that has been revealed in Jesus Christ. In fact, the word “epiphany,” which is today’s feast, means appearance or revelation. In referring to “the mystery” (a common word used by Paul) he is speaking of God’s plan of salvation that had been hidden but is now revealed and made manifest in the person of Christ. This plan of salvation, surprisingly for the Jews, includes the Gentiles (non-Jews). Not only are the Gentiles included but they have equal status in the New Covenant. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ, they are, in fact, “coheirs, members, and copartners.” This welcoming of the Gentiles was foretold in today’s first reading and made evident in the gospel through the coming of the Magi (who were Gentiles) to worship Jesus and recognize Him as the Messiah.
There is something special about the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. We are reminded on this day as we celebrate this solemnity within the context of the divine liturgy that the Son of God came for all people, Jew and Gentile alike. His saving love is available to everyone, everywhere, in whatever state of life they may find themselves. There is no one outside of God’s thirst for love.
Our Gospel reminds us that the Magi were pagan seekers who set out to follow the rising star and at the end of their journey, they found far more than they could ever have imagined: they found the Face of God in the form of the Christ-child. We are also seekers who search for meaning and purpose in our lives, looking for love, acceptance and understanding. As Christians we know that we can only find all of that in Christ and our seeking has brought us here today because we know that we will find Christ in the words of the scriptures and in the breaking of the bread. Not only do we meet him in the Word and in the Sacrament, we also meet him in each other, in our frailty and our brokenness. The Lord is present here in each one of us, so let us pray that through us, Christ will reveal himself to everyone we encounter, friend and stranger alike. Perhaps we can make that one of our New Year’s resolutions that we keep.
The word Epiphany comes from the Greek Epiphaneia which means appearance, apparition, revelation or manifestation. In the Church’s understanding Epiphany has to do with God’s revelation or manifestation of himself to the world in the person of Jesus Christ. This is a significant event through which God showed that He is the God of both Jews and Gentiles (Gal.3:28). After the visit of the shepherds (presumably Jews) to the new born child through the direction of the nativity angels, wise men from the East (Gentiles) also encountered the glory of God’s manifestation through Jesus Christ with the direction of the magnificent star.
Epiphany from our understanding here involves two important and inseparable strands namely, divine call and human response. God calls us to see and appreciate His gift of inestimable value (John 3:16).We respond by going to see and appreciate God’s gifts. How do we appreciate God’s gifts? We do so by giving God our own gifts. The greatest of these gifts is the gift of our whole being.
Today our attention is turned to the wise men from the east. There are many legends surrounding identity of these men. Some people refer to them as “three” wise men on account of the three gifts they brought not that the account of Matthew (2:1-12) recorded that they were three. In some translation they are called Magi which refers to a caste within ancient Zoroastrian religion that were so knowledgeable in studying the movement of the heavenly bodies; some would thus liken them to astrologers while others still refer to them as kings.
We are more concerned about their mission than whom they are. The bible reported that they saw a star that was different from the usual as it indicated the birth of a great king. God has many ways of manifesting his presence. The letter to the Hebrews made reference to this when it says that:
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Heb.1:1-2).
Here we are presented with the fact that divine manifestation has been going on at various time and in various ways, but the one we are celebrating today sums up the whole gamut of divine revelation wherein the Word is made flesh and shown forth to the entire world. In the past God manifested himself to many people including Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Elijah, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zachariah in some mystical ways. But at the birth of Jesus Christ this manifestation takes a different shape. It was not like a vision or apparition but concretely tangible in the person of Jesus Christ born in a manger in that enclosure in Bethlehem.
Going back still to the visitors from the east we ask: “why were they called wise men?” Apart from their learning through which they acquired knowledge, they were also imbued with wisdom which ultimately comes from God. Another question will be: “was their wisdom before or after the visit to the new born king?”
We have to explore these in what follows as to why they were referred to as wise:
1. They were called “wise men” because they could read the signs of time and were able to understand divine signs.
2. They were called “wise men” because they left the comfort of their homes and occupation to search for God. Hence they understood that God is above everything and He is worth searching for just as we cannot exchange Him for anything at all.
3. They were called “wise men” because they remained steadfast in their search, even when the star disappeared they were not discouraged. They sought assistance from Herod whom they presumed was wise.
4. They were called “wise men” because they listened and followed the advice of God through the angel not to return to Herod and to return to their base through another route.
5. They were called “wise men” because they offered gifts with great significance to the mission of Jesus Christ.
Wise men and women are still searching for God. When God calls they answer and make themselves available to Him. To answer God’s call there is need for one to leave one’s position to a new one. In all the examples of God’s call one thing remains consistent, the person called is expected to leave his or her position to a new one. There is a constant need for us to change our positions. The wise men left the comfort of their location in the east to respond to God’s call through the star they saw. In this New Year we are also called to change to a new position from the unproductive old one that had been the cause of our stagnation, pain and failure. For us to move to this new position we need to be insightful enough to see the star and to follow it to where it will lead us. We need to be in constant search for God. An attentive mind may quickly ask: “where can we search for God?”
We can search for God in the following places:
1. In ourselves. God is in us. We are created in His own image and likeness.
2. In our fellow human beings. Whatever you do unto others that you have done unto me (Matt. 25:31).
3. In God Himself through His words and the sacraments.
There is a quick lesson we need to learn from the journey of the wise men. From the account we have from Matthew (2:1ff) they saw the star and followed it but by the time they came into the city of Jerusalem they could not see it again. It was then that they inquired from Herod about where the king of the Jews will be born whose star they saw earlier. Herod was ignorant of this notwithstanding his status as the king and he consulted the men of letters who confirmed the prophecy of the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem. Now immediately the wise men continued their journey to Bethlehem and their search for the new born king, the star appeared again and went ahead of them until it came to the place Christ was born. The lesson here is that we should never be discouraged when a situation does not seem to be favourable like it was in the past. These wise men were not discouraged; they stayed in the game. When profit is no longer forth coming like before in your business, stay in the game. When your family life seems to be facing turbulent times, stay in the game. When no one seems to appreciate your input at your workplace, stay in the game. The wise men could have turned back when the star disappeared and when the King could not understand what they were talking about; they stayed in the game and their mission was fulfilled as the star came out again. Sometimes your star would seem dim; do not worry, it will rise and shine again but you have to remain in the game.
Let us turn to the symbolism of these gifts.
The first gift was Gold. Among ancient people, gold was regarded as the king of metals. It was therefore the ideal gift for a king. The Magi gave Jesus all their love as pure, solid, lasting and as purified from selfish motives. They wanted to love Jesus with all their heart and mind. God symbolizes fidelity and perseverance. Their love was sincere.
The second gift was the Frankincense. Ancient people used incense in their religious worship. The aroma and smoke, spiraling upward to heaven, spoke to them of gods and divinity. The gift of incense, therefore, is a symbol of the divinity of Jesus. It tells us that Jesus always had the nature of God but became like man and appeared in human likeness (Phil 2:6-9).
It has been used as a symbol of adoration. The Magi adored Jesus as God. Even today we use incense in the liturgy as a sign of worship. In particular, we incense the gospel in which Jesus is present, the altar representing Christ and the gifts of bread and wine on the altar which will become the Body and Blood of Christ.
The third gift was Myrrh. Among ancient people, myrrh was used to prepare the dead for burial. For example, the women brought myrrh to the tomb of Jesus. Because of myrrh’s relationship with death,, it made an ideal symbol of human vulnerability.
The gift of myrrh, therefore, is symbolic of the humanity of Jesus. It speaks to us of Jesus’ human vulnerability. Like us, He experienced the whole range of human emotions: sorrow, joy, fear, frustration, loneliness, anger and others. He was like us in all things but sin.
Like the Magi, let us give our love, fidelity, perseverance and sincerity to Jesus. Let us offer Him our prayer and our human weaknesses too. But specifically, like the Magi and according to Bishop Socrates Villegas in his, Love Like Jesus, let us have the three S ( SEE, SEARCH, SUBMIT) of this Feast of Epiphany.
The first S is, to See. The wise men saw the star and they followed. God tells us not to see with our physical eyes but to see with our hearts because God is in our hearts, His favorite place within us.
The second S is Search. The wise men were searching for Christ. They wanted to find the meaning of life and they found it in Christ and in living for others. God wants us to live an exciting life and not just be satisfied with the monotony and the boredom of life.
The last S is Submit or to obey. The wise men did this once they found Jesus and offered to Him the best of everything. Let us submit to His will and authority because His will and authority are the best for us.
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.