Note: this homily was prepared on January 5, 2020. It was published online on January 17, 2020. Sorry about the delay.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. We all just heard again the story we know so well. Three magi, guided by a star, come to Israel in search of a newborn king. They find Jesus with Mary and Joseph, prostrate themselves, and offer him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Warned in a dream against Herod, they depart from Bethlehem a different way. But why do we call this Epiphany? You used to have to look these things up in a very thick and fancy book about Bible things, but now Wikipedia tells you right away that “Epiphany” comes from a Greek word ἐπιφάνεια (epipháneia), which means something like manifestation or appearance. They used it to refer to the appearance of a God to worshippers. What occurs during the visit of these three wise men from the East, these three astrologers, these three Gentiles, that reveals Jesus to his followers—to us?
We can actually learn a lot from the three wise men from the East. These men were watching the sky closely enough to recognize a new star being born in the sky. They were constantly on the lookout for a manifestation of deity from the Heavens. As the magi watched the sky for signs from heaven, we are called to watch for the Lord. We must live with open eyes, because the Lord will come at a time we do not expect. We might not even recognize him at first—his own Apostles did not recognize him on the road to Emmaus! We do not know the day or the hour that we will meet our Lord; however, we must always be prepared to meet Him.
After traveling for quite some time, the magi went to Jerusalem to inquire about where the new king had been born. The star, the light and guide for their journey, seems to have become hidden from their view. We too can lose sight of our Lord. We too can become lost along the way. There are many responses we could have when this happens, but the wise men show us what we must do. They consulted the scholars of the law and the chief priests for guidance. If anybody knew where the King of the Jews would be born, it was them. When we become lost, when we struggle to find God in our lives, we can turn to our Church and our priests for guidance. Sometimes this can be an incredible challenge, especially when our Church finds itself mired in all the muck that she finds herself in today. How can we trust the Church and her ministers lead us to Christ? The simple answer is that we trust God to make it happen. Look at who the magi consulted: Herod the Great was known to be a paranoid, homicidal despot. The Jewish religious authorities had a bad history of killing every prophet they came across. Despite all that, the wise men consulted them and received the truth.
When the wise men arrive, finally, in Bethlehem, the prostrate themselves—a gesture of worship—and give Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts each symbolize and reveal something about the child Jesus. Gold shows Jesus’s kingship, frankincense his divinity, and myrrh his humanity. The wise men, who were not even Jewish, recognized in the mystery of the Christ Child something greater than themselves, so they prostrate themselves in worship to him. They offered him lavish gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh were not easy to come by in the ancient world. We too are called to worship God and offer him good gifts. We worship him most perfectly when we attend Mass and witness the re-presentation of salvation to us. We are called to offer him gifts every moment of our lives, because God wants much more then our treasures: he wants to be on our mind constantly. When we go to work, to school, to the gym, to our sporting events, God is there, waiting for us to acknowledge that he is with us even there.
On this feast, Jesus’s kingship, divinity, and humanity are made manifest by the magi, let us learn from these wise men. Let us ask the Lord for assistance in following him every moment of our lives, so that our eyes may be open to see his work even in the most mundane moments of our lives. Let us ask the Lord for the courage to ask for help when we can’t see him. Let us ask the Lord for the resolve to always be attentive to his worship and in recognition of the many gifts he has given us, to offer some of those gifts back to him.
January 5, 2020
Epiphany of the Lord, Year A
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12