The Epiphany of the Lord – Jan. 7, 2024

 

The Epiphany of the Lord – Jan. 7, 2024

Isaiah 60: 1-6; Ephesians 3: 2-3a; 5-6; Matthew 2: 1-12.

Theme: Jesus is the Epiphany of God, and We are Called to be the Epiphany of Jesus

 

Today, we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. From its Greek origin: epi, “on, upon”, and phaino, “to appear, to shine”, the word “Epiphany” refers to the divinity of Jesus “shining upon” the world. In other words, Epiphany is the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus. The early Church identified three specific events that reveal Jesus’ divine nature. The modern Lectionary and liturgical calendar maintain them together in three celebrations in a row. First, the visit of the Magi that we celebrate today; second, the Baptism of the Lord which is generally observed on the Sunday after Epiphany but this year it is scheduled for tomorrow, Monday, January 8th; and third, the following Sunday (the second Sunday in Ordinary Time) always has either a Gospel passage of the Wedding at Cana (John 2: 1-11) or John the Baptist’s testimony to Jesus, the section that comes right before the Wedding at Cana (John 1: 29-42). 

In this feast of Epiphany, we celebrate the self-manifestation of God through the Infant Jesus. Prophet Isaiah, in the first reading, tells of the light shining forth from Jerusalem attracting peoples from near and far, from land and sea. In our Gospel, Matthew informs us that the Magi (the three wise men from the East) were led by the star (the light from above) to the place where the Newborn King was. Saint Paul, in today’s second reading, teaches the Ephesians that they and all the Gentiles are members of the same body of Christ.

Matthew commences this Gospel account of the birth of Jesus by mentioning Bethlehem, King Herod, and the magi. (Matthew 2: 1-2). The explanation of these three names will help us to better understand the theological meaning of our Gospel passage. First, “Bethlehem of Judea”, the birthplace of Jesus, is the place where David was anointed as king. (1 Samuel 16: 1-13). So, by mentioning “Bethlehem of Judea” here, the evangelist wants to confirm that Jesus is from the line of David. Therefore, this newborn is the Messiah foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament. Second, Herod was appointed by the Roman senate to rule Judea in 40 B.C. The Jewish historian Josephus reports that he was a brutal tyrant. He executed large numbers of political opponents including his own family members. The primary goal of his life was to maintain his power. That is why he was constantly vigilant against possible threats to it, particularly from those who pretended to fulfill the royal prophecies foretold by the prophets. Herod was extremely paranoid to the level that all people feared him. My assumption in the context of our Gospel is that the people in Herod’s city and court were not pleased with the arrival of the magi insofar as their interpretation of a king who was born among the Jews would provoke Herod’s paranoia. And when Herod’s paranoia enflamed, people would die.

Third, the magi were learned men, academics, or scientists of their time. They studied astronomy which was not distinct from astrology in antiquity. As astronomical phenomena were identified with historical events, the magi were the ones to bring interpretations. Matthew reports an astronomical event around the time of Jesus’ birth and the interpretation of the three magi which indicates a new royal line among the Jews.

In this Gospel passage, Matthew tells us that the first persons to whom the divinity of Jesus was revealed were not the insiders from the Jewish community but the foreign magi who came from the East. This illustrates the universalism of God’s revelation. Prophet Isaiah, in our first reading, already prophesied that caravans of camels shall fill Jerusalem; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense and proclaiming the praises of the Lord. (Isaiah 60: 6). Also, Saint Paul, in our second reading, confirms this universalism of God’s revelation when he says that through the Gospel, the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 3: 6). Today, God continues to reveal himself to all people from different backgrounds. The Church is the visible sign of God’s revelation as it welcomes people from all nations.

Matthew speaks of the star that guided the magi to the place where the new King Jesus was born. To see and know God, we must go to Jesus who is the Epiphany of his Father. So, we need to find our star, the light from above, who can lead us to him. Our Gospel says that the three wise men came from afar, meaning that they traveled a long distance to discover where the newborn King was born. No doubt they were tired, but they did not give up. They faithfully followed the star. You and I are the “magi” of today. Our earthly life is a long journey going to Jesus who reveals to us who God is. We need revelatory stars that lead us to Jesus. And once we find them, we need to follow their guidance faithfully.

The celebration of the Eucharist (Mass) is the first and greatest star that draws us closer to our Lord. During Mass, Jesus reveals God to us. When we attend Mass, we take part in the heavenly banquet; we sit at the same table with Christ; we hear him when he speaks to us through the Scripture readings, and he hears us when we lift up our petitions, prayers, and songs to him. At the celebration of the Eucharist, we touch Jesus through the Holy Communion that we receive, and we become one with him. Mass is the star that leads us to Jesus. Bible study is another star that shows us the way to Jesus. Saint Jerome said that ignoring the Scripture is ignoring Jesus. To go to Jesus and know him means that we need to open our Bibles and read them. I lead Bible sharing every Friday at 5:00 pm virtually via Zoom and in person. Starting this Friday, January 12th, 19th, and 26th at 6: 00 p.m., I will teach a 3-day Bible Study Class to all SVD Church members from different dioceses in the Southern part of the country. You can attend in person or online. I encourage us to become familiar with reading the Bible at home. The Bible is a good star that guides us to Jesus. There are many more stars that we should also use as our guides such as Church ministries (choir, lector, Eucharist Ministers, catechists, Parish Pastoral and Finance Councils, Men club, Ladies club, Young Adult Ministry, Youth Ministry, Usher/Security, and all ministries, commissions, and committees). When we serve God in these ministries and committees, we strengthen our relationship with God.

The path of the magi did one stop in Herod’s territory. The magi revealed to everyone that they were in search of the newborn king of the Jews because they saw his star at its rising. When Herod heard the news about the Newborn King Jesus, he was greatly troubled. Matthew tells us that “all Jerusalem” was troubled right along with him (Mt 2: 2-3). That was not good news for Herod who did not want anyone to threaten his power. As I mentioned above, Herod was extremely paranoid. He had such control over his subjects that they were too afraid to show any disloyalty to him. When Matthew says that all people in Jerusalem were afraid along with Herod, this does not mean that they worry about the power of their king Herod. Rather, the people worried about their peace. They knew that when Herod was distressed, people would die. Today Herod represents all those who take comfort in the darkness and fear the light. Those who do not accept Jesus to be the king of their lives. We must abandon all the works of darkness and come to the light as prophet Isaiah exhorts us to in our first reading.

When the Magi encountered the newborn Jesus, they prostrated themselves, did him homage, and offered him the presents of gold (meaning that Jesus is a King), frankincense (Jesus is a higher Priest), and myrrh (predicting the death and resurrection of Jesus). The gestures of the Magi and the meaning of their presents are found in the liturgy of the Eucharist. At Mass, we come to praise Jesus our Lord, the king of the universe. He is the Higher Priest who celebrates his own Mass through the human priest. And Mass itself is the celebration of the Paschal ministry, which is the commemoration of Jesus’ Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.

After experiencing the “Epiphany of our Lord”, in their mystical contact with Jesus, the Maggi departed for their country in another way, avoiding the way that would lead them back to Herod who had no intention to bow down before Jesus but rather to kill him. During the liturgy of the Mass, there is a mystical encounter that occurs between us and Jesus which provokes in us a metanoia, “conversion”. That is why, at the end of the Mass, being transformed, we are called to return to our homes using a different way, which is the way of conversion. We abandon our old life and start a new one with Jesus.

Jesus, the star of our lives, is the Epiphany of God. He draws us closer to God. As his followers, we are called to be the stars for our brothers and sisters. We must help them see Jesus and come closer to him through our Christian lives. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

 

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