January 9, 2011
As everyone can notice, the Christmas decorations are still up. Technically, the Christmas Season ended on January 6th, the actual day of Epiphany. However, given that we did not celebrate this day on its actual designated day, but transferred it to today, we still get one last glance of the Christmas joy. Our Roman brothers and sisters celebrated Epiphany last Sunday, and we this Sunday. Rome rushes it; we prolong it. Christmas does not end until the Magi come to see the Incarnation of God. This period of Christmas is popularized by the song, Twelve Days of Christmas.
In countless stories and images, the season of Epiphany is about Jesus being recognized as the beloved Son of God, the one in whom we see the glory of God revealed. This is the time when Jesus is “manifest” as the light of the world. This is a time when the love of God is “shown-forth” for all the ages in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. This “manifest” or “shown-forth” comes from the Greek word for Epiphany which means “manifestation” or “showing-forth”. From the feast of Epiphany on January 6 through all the Sundays after until Lent, this season is about the manifestation or showing forth of God's glory in Jesus Christ. This all may seem like a “dragging-out” of Christmas, as one could say that Christ has been manifest since Christmas day. This is true to a point. The feast of Christmas celebrates the incarnation of the Son of God, while the feast of the Epiphany emphasizes the earthly manifestations of his eternal birth.
We hear that a star in the East leads the wise astrologer-kings to the Christ child. Epiphany is about three mysteries. The star that leads the Magi to the Christ child; the miraculous wine at the marriage at Cana; and Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. (The baptism of Jesus, in modern times has been separated, if you will, as a separate feast, though it is still very much a part of the Epiphany theology.)
We see further epiphanies as Jesus makes repeated invitations to his would-be disciples and other followers to “come and see”. He proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He teaches the multitudes, through what we call “The Sermon on the Mount.” Finally he is “transfigured” in the sight of Peter, James, and John, and once again God declares, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased.”
This season is also about another “e-word”. Epiphany is about Evangelism. “Evangelism” also has its Greek root: Evangelium, which means “Good News.” We usually encounter as “Gospel”, the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. “Evangelism” never actually occurs in the Scriptures, but we come to understand that the Scriptures subtly suggest that we must all become evangelists; and this we should.
So as we move through this season, we need to remember our position. In countless ways we will encounter Jesus as the Light of the World, the manifestation of God in our lives. But it should not stop with us; we are called to make the Good News manifest to others through our own loves; what we do, what we say, and how we live. This Epiphany we are all called to be an evangelist. We need to promise to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.
Epiphany celebrates the proclamation that Jesus Christ is Lord, the manifestation of the Savior, the revelation of God in the world. Isaiah speaks of this epiphany as a light shining in the darkness. In our Gospel we see the magi—astrologers, star-followers—seeking a new light, a new life. Perhaps they are looking for something unusual and exciting. Or perhaps they are genuinely searching for something that will change their lives. We don’t know what brought them together as companions except the shared quest. We’re told that they brought rich gifts to honor the new king and perhaps win favors, and that they inquired at the palace of the reigning king (Herod) for news. They did all the expected and conventional things, but one thing is certain; they found something more than they expected.
We can discover in the experience of the Magi, questions about our own spiritual search. Often we begin our search in ordinary and expected ways. But in the course of asking questions and discovering answers, we suddenly come upon a manifestation of faith in God’s love for us that turns many of our conventional expectations upside down.
Once the Magi had seen the savior, once the manifestation of God in their lives was clear, they did something unexpected. “They returned to their country by a different way.” No longer were they interested in an alliance with Herod. Their gifts became symbols of a far greater reality. No longer were they comfortable and content with their familiar ways and habits. They accepted the challenge of new possibilities, new ways of looking at things, new ways of doing things. They were still on their journey but no longer searching with starry-eyed daydreams. They had seen the true radiance of the Lord. They knew a new world was dawning.
In contrast to the Magi, Herod wasn’t interested in new possibilities. He remained in the darkness because he didn’t understand the light. He feared the light—and the change it would bring to his life. If we’re honest, we know that at times we, too, resist change. Do we believe that the light of the new star will make us look dark and dim in our sinful, self-indulgent ways? Rather than living in the light of Christ, do we prefer to snuff that light out so that ours might seem to shine all the brighter?
Unlike Herod, the astrologers gave everything they had to follow the star. They recognized the light in their life and accepted the changes it brought. We know this by the gifts they gave to the child Jesus. They are conscious of honoring the divine nature and the human nature as united in a single being. To God Jesus they offer incense, to the man Jesus they offer myrrh, and to the King Jesus they offer gold.
We don’t hear what happened to them after they returned home, but we know they left by a different route because that’s what God called them to do, and they followed that call. Our lives too should be changed by the light that has come into our lives. And we should be willing to give everything so that the light may shine through us. The manifestation of the savior should lead us along new roads to eternal glory.
Our faith, like theirs, has to be strong enough that even though we only see a star in the night we follow it all day, we live our lives as people who have seen the light, who have been given the promise that a new king has come into our lives.
Epiphany reminds us that we come to the experience of Christianity from all walks of life, from a variety of attitudes and expectations. But once we have seen the Lord, we travel as companions on a common journey, a different and life-giving way.
We are called to go on a journey much like the Magi. When we participate in the Eucharist, or the Mass, it is this offering which replaces the gold, frankincense and myrrh. It is during this we must all offer our very selves as human beings being grafted into Christ. When we pray later in the Mass, asking our Lord to accept these offerings, the gold, frankincense and myrrh, are replaced with wine and bread, or the sacrifice of food and wine that symbolizes Jesus Christ present to us all.
Christians, therefore, are called to be Magi, as he or she seeks the light and is guided by it in his or her life of faith while drawing the nations into the light as well. As we meditate on these truths, it is difficult not to feel a painful distance between what ought to be and what is. The Magi were the first in a procession of countless people who have journeyed toward the Lord. But we must always be asking ourselves, “Are we really Magi for today?” As Christian Catholics we must let the divine light within us shine through to others. The light should never be hidden under a basket or such, but put on a lampstand for all to see.
We, like the Magi, should be on a journey of knowing and living in Christ. Our whole life should be a journey. Not just a Sunday at church or a muttered prayer or two once in a while type of journey; but a journey of life - a way of life - all day and every day, living in Christ. That is Epiphany for us today. That is Epiphany for you and me!
God Love You +
+The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.