The Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ is one of the oldest Christian feasts. Throughout the centuries, it has celebrated a variety of things. The Greek word Epiphany (επιφάνεια), which means appearance or manifestation describes Jesus’ first appearance to the Gentiles. Like many of the most ancient Christian feasts, Epiphany was first celebrated in the East.
Today’s Old Testament reading in the liturgy of the Mass, Isaiah 60:1-6, is chosen partly because it mentions non-Jews bringing gifts in homage to the God of Israel. The passage also celebrates the Divine Light emanating from Jerusalem and foresees all the nations acknowledging and enjoying that Light and walking by it.
“Arise! Shine, for your light has come, the glory of the LORD has dawned upon you. Though darkness covers the earth,and thick clouds, the peoples, Upon you the LORD will dawn, and over you his glory will be seen.
Nations shall walk by your light,kings by the radiance of your dawning. Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you—Your sons from afar, your daughters in the arms of their nurses.c
Then you shall see and be radiant, your heart shall throb and overflow. For the riches of the sea shall be poured out before you, the wealth of nations shall come to you. Caravans of camels shall cover you, dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; All from Sheba shall come ” (Isaiah 60:1-6)
The Magi were not Kings, but more likely a caste of Persian priests who served Kings using their skills in interpreting dreams and watching movements of stars. Stars were believed to be signs from God, announcing important events. Thus, the brightness of the Light to which kings were drawn was made visible in the star they followed. The sixth century Italian tradition that there were three Magi, Casper, Balthazar, and Melchior, is based on the fact that three gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh are mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel:
“…and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage… they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11)
Gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh may be thought of as acknowledging who Jesus is. Gold was a gift for Kings; frankincense was offered to God in Temple worship. Myrrh was used by the High Priest as an anointing oil (Ex. 30:23). It was also the Jewish custom in preparing a dead body for burial to wash the body and then anoint it with perfumes such as nard, aloes, and myrrh, a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and burial.
The feast of the Epiphany in the East celebrated four different events, the Baptism of the Lord; Christ’s first miracle, the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana; theNativity of Christ; and the visitation of the Wise Men or Magi. Each of these events are a theophany or revelation of God to man:
At Christ’s Baptism, the Holy Spirit descends and the voice of God the Father is heard, declaring that Jesus is His Son; at the wedding in Cana, the miracle reveals Christ’s divinity; at the Nativity, the angels bear witness to Christ, and the shepherds, representing the people of Israel, bow down before Him; and at the visitation of the Magi, Christ’s divinity is revealed to the Gentiles—the other nations of the earth. Eventually, the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany was separated out, in the West, into separate feasts of Christmas, Epiphany, Baptism of Jesus, and Marriage feast at Cana.
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When I pray on the narrative of the feast of the Epiphany many themes come to mind. God’s revelation to man, a great light invades the darkness, all are called, God man, Jesus, is Savior of all, what Mary and Joseph must have thought with all this attention, some came in worship, some hunted their son in hatred and some like today, were indifferent..
Would I have been among the shepherds that came and adored or would I have been too tired or too worried about my sheep. I think about the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit, leading the wise man back another route. Do I take the right path on my journey home? Just like the Magi, can I choose a better route, what obstacles do I need to remove for a smooth route home…Do I pay attention to dreams/inspirations like Joseph and the wise men? Do I call on the Holy Spirit often enough for guidance?
The feast of the Epiphany celebrates the extension of Christ’s kingship to the whole world. The feast of the Epiphany presents to us the calling of not merely a chosen few, but all nations to Christianity. It foreshadows Jesus’ Great Commission to his disciples at His Ascension, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19)
At Jesus’ birth the great light shown on Jesus, Mary, and Joseph and then it began to spread. fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, “Galilee of the Gentiles. “the people who walk in darkness will see a great light;Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.” (Isaiah 9:2) Let us walk in that light too! Can we be a light in the world, radiating Jesus’ love by selfless service, unconditional forgiveness and compassionate care to lessen the darkness of evil
May we, like the wise men have courage to follow that light wherever it might lead, however dangerous the journey. Let us be ready to recognize Jesus in any unexpected way. When we hear his voice or see His face, embrace Him, adore Him, and pledge our total loyalty!
Like the Magi, we can offer gifts to the new born king. What kind of gifts? Remember the Little Drummer Boy who came to play his drums for Jesus in the Christmas tune…It doesn’t matter if we are materially rich or poor. we certainly can offer our friendship? How that friendship is manifested is for each of us to ponder in prayer…God has already offered His friendship with the gift of His only begotten Son….
Not only, can we offer friendship to God but to our neighbor as well,….a tougher one to be sure, especially that neighbor I don’t really care so much for…the price can be high, opening up ourselves to others, making ourselves vulnerable…Going out of our way to attend to needs of others calls for grace of generosity and selflessness.
The Good News, our actions may promote reconciliation and peace on earth, repairing damaged relationships. We need to seek peace first in our own hearts before we can give it to others. In God’s mercy can we forgive ourselves while we ask God for His Mercy. Much prayer and sacramental grace is needed. Jesus I trust in you!
ACT OF CONTRITION
Oh, my God, I am sorry for all my sins. Be merciful to me a sinner. I am deeply sorry for having broken and weakened relationships with you and my neighbor. I pray in your loving mercy you will heal what I have hurt and strengthen what I have weakened, in Jesus’ name I pray!
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Let us conclude with a 19th century English carol, Christina Rosetti’s 1830 – 1894 A Christmas Carol:
A Christmas Carol
In the bleak mid-winter Frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, ater like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, Snow on snow, In the bleak mid-winter Long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him Nor earth sustain; Heaven and earth shall flee away When He comes to reign: In the bleak midwinter
A stable-place sufficed The Lord God Almighty Jesus Christ. Enough for Him, whom cherubim Worship night and day, A breastful of milk And a mangerful of hay; Enough for Him, whom angels Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel Which adore. Angels and archangels May have gathered there, Cherubim and seraphim Thronged the air; But only His mother In her maiden bliss Worshipped the Beloved With a kiss.
What can I give Him, Poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb, If I were a Wise Man I would do my part,—Yet what I can I give Him, Give my heart.
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