Solemnity of the Epiphany
Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12
The word “epiphany” means “manifestation.” Nowadays, we mainly celebrate the manifestation of God through a star to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi. But during the long course of history of this celebration it also commemorated the manifestations that took place at the Baptism of Christ and the wedding at Cana, as is evidenced by one of our antiphons at Vespers today: “. . . on this day, the star led the Magi to the manger-crib of the infant Jesus; on this day, water was changed to wine for the wedding feast of Cana; on this day, Christ the Lord willed to be baptized by John in the river Jordan.”
If you think of it, Sacred Scripture, the whole Bible, is a recording of God making himself known to us. Some events stand out more than others, like the theophany of the burning bush on Mt. Sinai when God revealed his name to Moses. And of course the revelation we received in the four Gospels was the high point in the history of God’s manifestations.
It is safe to say that every one of us is here in this building this morning because God has made himself known to us in some way and we were touched deeply. He personally manifested himself to us in a way that we know is authentic and we cannot run away from. Otherwise, why would we be here? We could be in bed right now, sleeping in. We could be using this time to get some useful things done around the house. We could be watching sports or something on TV, or out getting some much needed exercise, or socializing, or shopping. But we’re not. Instead, we’re gathered here for an hour of what others might consider as wasted time. As a child we may have come to Mass because we were forced to by our parents or because it was what the family did on Sundays. But at some point in our life, we had to make that decision our own. Somehow, we believe that God is worth it — that our own spiritual life is worth it and needs this nourishment.
Look around this room. It is filled with people who could be doing something else but they’re here instead. To me that is very inspirational. I am very moved every Sunday by the faith of the people who come to Mass here. I know that at some point in their lives God touched them and wounded them with a longing that won’t go away. They’re here to try to satisfy that longing, that hunger that only God can fill. God gives meaning to their lives; other things fail to deliver. When I look around this church, the faith I see in the people gathered here is a manifestation of God’s realness, God’s power to move people and draw them by his love and majesty. We’re all different: some are plumbers, electricians, monks, housewives, businessmen – but we all share that faith that makes us God’s beloved children.
God uses many ways to manifest himself to us. To many, he speaks to them through the beauty and magnificence of creation. They feel close to God when they are out in nature or gazing at the stars at night, or stopping to allow a gorgeous sunset to fill their spirit. Others may experience God in the kindness and thoughtfulness and love of people they encounter. We can think back on significant people who have manifested God to us during important moments of our faith life. God used their hands and their faces and their voices to make himself known to us. We sensed it, we felt it, we intuited it. And now we, in our turn, must remove the selfishness and tarnish that inhibits God from shining through us to touch other people that he so wants to draw to himself. This thought is reflected in the second of the three final blessings that we will hear at the end of Mass today when Fr. Gerard prays, “And since in all confidence you follow Christ, who today appeared in the world as a light shining in the darkness, may God make you, too, a light for your brothers and sisters.”
I mentioned how God uses nature or other people to manifest himself to us. This, of course, presupposes an openness on our part – a receptivity. We have to have eyes that are willing and able to see these things, and are even on the lookout. Otherwise, God may be trying to manifest himself to us at every other corner but we’re overlooking them because we’re too preoccupied with things that in the long run won’t really matter. The Magi saw what certainly many other people would have been capable of seeing at that time – a bright star in the night sky. But in their case, they saw more. They had the correct disposition to read it as a turning point in history. They said to Herod, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” We too must cultivate dispositions that allow us to be captivated when God breaks through into our reality. A helpful practice might be to take some time at the end of each day to reflect back on ways that God gave us a wink or a wave and let us know that he is never very far away.
And regarding this disposition of receptivity, a prime opportunity is when we receive Jesus in the Eucharist. After the Creed, in a couple of minutes, we will hear in one of the petitions of the Universal Prayer: “For a spirit of humble worship in our own lives, that we may adore Jesus in the Eucharist with the devotion of the wise men who brought gifts.” Our Catholic faith teaches us that it is the same Jesus – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – that the Magi worshiped in Bethlehem. They were willing to travel a long distance and endure many hardships. He makes himself so available to us and so frequently that we are tempted to take so august an occurrence lightly.
The Solemnity of the Epiphany only rolls around once a year. Let us not allow it to pass us by without receiving some of the gifts that the King of Kings is dying to give us.