THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORDJANUARY 5, 2020
Isaiah 60: 1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3: 2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2: 1-12
by Jude Siciliano, OP
There are three major celebrations during Christmas time: the Nativity, the Solemnity of Mary (January 1) and today, the Epiphany. The feast of the Baptism of the Lord (January 12) closes the Christmas season.
"Epiphany" means manifestation. What is being manifested? – the manifestation of Christ’s kingdom to the pagans, symbolized by the "magi from the east" coming in search of the "newborn king of the Jews." They represent the first fruits of Christ’s universal kingdom. What was symbolized by the magi’s coming has already occurred – peoples throughout the world have expressed faith in Christ and, guided by his light, become his followers.
Today we celebrate the manifestation of God’s initiative and outreach to all peoples. The reading from the prophet Isaiah expresses what God has always planned. The prophet anticipates and expresses his vision in poetic language; for poetry is free from any particular time, or circumstance. It speaks to the past, present and future.
Isaiah turns our eyes to Jerusalem, where he sees a celebratory and long procession of her children coming "from afar." They have been in exile, but now God is delivering them and bringing them home. In the vision, the Temple has been rebuilt. More than just the faithful are marching up to Jerusalem; "nations," people from every land, are coming with their offerings. It is the epiphany of the Lord.
With Christ’s birth the glory of God’s only Son has been revealed. But throughout Jesus’ entire ministry the "glory" of the Lord has been made manifest to all. We have joined the procession of the "nations," as we come to worship today and give praise for what God has done for the world in Christ.
Matthew is the only one of the four Gospels that tells of the magi who came to do "homage" to the "newborn king of the Jews." He has drawn on the prophetic texts, exemplified in our Isaiah reading, to show Christ as the fulfillment of God’s plan. Isaiah’s vision was meant to offer hope to a devastated people. Matthew expands the message and shows God’s fulfillment in Christ, whose good news of the kingdom is to be preached to the four corners of the world. The magi illustrate how God’s revelation is made known to all people of goodwill, people ready to receive it.
Matthew concludes his gospel by showing how the prophecies of God’s universal salvation have been accomplished in Christ and then, through his charge to the disciples. "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you. And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world."
The Epiphany is not only about God’s manifestation at Jesus’ birth. It is not only a feast of light shining in a dark world in a past time. Jesus charges us, his disciples, to be an epiphany, a manifestation of Christ through every generation, "even to the end of the world." We are to follow in Christ’s footsteps and show forth the glory of God through our lives. What glory, or light, might that be? Christ, has shown us by his life the glory of God in his care for the outcast and the neediest; his building of a community of equals; his forgiveness of sins and his work of peacemaking.
Even under the best of situations, when we Christians are faithful to Jesus’ teachings, and are shining forth God’s presence by our lives, still, the full epiphany of the Lord is not yet. So this feast is also a feast of hope, nourished by what God has done and is doing in our midst. Epiphany points us to a day when God will bring to fulfillment and completion what God promised in the prophets and showed forth in Christ. By Christ’s light we have seen who our God is, what God is doing for us and what God intends for the world through us, Christ’s disciples.
Matthew tells us that after the magi arrived at the home and gave homage to the child, they "departed for their country by another way." Matthew isn’t talking about road maps is he? The Infancy Narrative is not just a listing of facts – none of the gospel material is. What the evangelist tells us is not only about accepting the revelation about Christ and acknowledging him as Messiah. Graced by faith we are to follow what we believe and profess it with acts of obedience to Christ.
The Magi’s change of route then suggests a change of life – a new way of acting – because of their encounter with Christ. The Epiphany is both a revelation to us and a call to follow up on what has been revealed about Christ and his life. With the magi we give homage today to one who is the Light of the world. We also resolve to change our ways by what the Word teaches us and with the help of Christ’s presence in this Eucharist.
This and all the feasts we celebrate here in community, are not mere "look-backs" to past events. Rather, today, we are reminded it is our mission to be, as Paul puts it, "stewards" of God’s grace. He tells the Ephesians that a "mystery was made known to me by revelation." He has been made a steward of the ministry of God’s love that has reached out to all peoples beyond the fringes of just one religion, class, race, or nationality. How, in our daily lives then, can we be epiphanies of God’s broad and inclusive love for all people?
Why was King Herod greatly troubled "and all of Jerusalem with him?" The magi came looking for the "newborn King of the Jews," that is why they caused upset in the halls of power. Seers from the east came looking for a king and it was not Caesar, or Herod, or anyone in his court. This newborn king of the Jews is going to offer competition to the powers that be. Of course he does, and we have a choice: before which power shall we bow, to the world and all it promises us, or before King Jesus and the life he has for us?
Herod consults the people’s religious leaders, the chief priests and scribes. They have the correct information, drawn from their tradition, about where the child can be found. But having information is one thing; changing our lives to follow on what we know is quite another. Those who are supposed to know have the information, but they do not act on it.
The magi have the information, and they act on it. They do homage and go home by another way – a poetic suggestion to us all. We know the truths of our faith, but how much of our lives still needs to change and respond to what we believe?
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