Today is the Feast of the Epiphany; a very wonderful and sacred time in the Church. This feast was celebrated early in the Church's history and held pride of place long before the first celebration of Christmas. Traditionally celebrated on January 6th, it is now celebrated in the United States on the first Sunday after January 2nd. This year, that Sunday happens to fall on the traditional date.
Today we celebrate the revealing, or manifestation of Christ to the world, specifically focusing on three events: the visit of the Magi, our Lord' baptism, and His first miracle at the wedding in Cana. Since it is the theme of the visit of the Magi that is at the fore of this feast, I want to share some reflections from that event as recorded for us in the second chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel.
The coming of the Gentiles to faith in Jesus is a key theme in this story. The Magi were most likely Persian astrologers who recognized in the Star that a great god-king had been born. Though they were pagans, completely cut off from the heritage of the worship of the one true God of Israel, yet God chose to reveal Himself to them through means that they would understand. This shows the great love of our God who is always calling out to us and has come to us in Christ (Emmanuel- God with us). In addition, this provides some insight into the "ethical" dilemma of how it is that God will judge people who have never had the opportunity to hear of Christ. We find that God is ever resourceful in finding ways to reach His people. So it continues to this present day. While angels announced the glad tidings to the people of God (Jews), a simple, silent star lead the way for the pagan Gentiles.
When they came to Herod they asked where He is who is born King of the Jews. They expected that all the Jewish nation, including their king, would be waiting with great anticipation for this event. But Herod had no idea. He had to consult the chief priests and scribes who told him of the prophecy that our Lord would be born in Bethlehem. Then Herod feigned piety, asking the Magi to return to him once they had found the Child so he could worship Him too. It reminds me of our current time when all our political presidential hopefuls are working overtime to convince us how religious they are. But one must wonder if they will also turn and commit great sacrilege in the murder of innocents (abortion) once they are elected.
Upon finding the Holy Family in Bethlehem, the Magi offered gifts to our Lord. Gold is of the highest worth and a fit gift for a king. Frankincense is reminiscent of the incense that continually ascends before God representing prayer. Myrrh was used in embalming and speaks of mortality. So in these gifts we see that the Magi recognized this Babe as King, God, and Man. They believed in Him, worshiped Him, and thus found salvation. We do not expect that their faith was like ours in every particular, primitive as it was. But we must believe that it was acceptable to God.
We too are called to come and adore Him. We offer the gold of pure hearts as the highest gift we have. We give continuous prayer and worship to Him as frankincense. We offer the myrrh of our own mortality in freely choosing to mortify that which is yet sinful in us so that He will have pure temples in which to dwell.
When the Magi left they did not go back to Herod, or return the way they had come, but returned to their own country by another way. St. Gregory the Great says this is indicative of the call to conversion. When we come to see Jesus, we are changed forever. We cannot return to our old lives as we once knew them. We are called to go out by another way- the way of the cross; the way of eternal life.
On this glorious day of Epiphany, may the visit of the Magi find a place within our hearts. May we, like them, offer our worship and our selves to our Lord Jesus Christ. Then let us take this wonderful message by another way to our homes, businesses, and communities that others, too, may come to know our wonderful Lord!