The Feast of the Epiphany

The Epiphany can be looked on as a symbol for our pilgrimage through life to Christ.   The feast invites us to see ourselves in the Magi – a people on a journey to Christ.  They saw the star and were led by the star to its destination and found the star itself.  Today’s Gospel also tells us the story of the encounter of the Magi with the evil King Herod.   This encounter demonstrates three reactions to Jesus’ birth:  hatred, indifference, and adoration: a) Hatred: A group of people headed by Herod planned to destroy Jesus.   b) Indifference: Another group, composed of priests and scribes, ignored Jesus.   c) Adoration: The members of a third group — shepherds and the magi — adored Jesus and offered themselves to Him.

The destructive group:  King Herod considered Jesus a potential threat to his kingship.  Herod the Great was a cruel and selfish king who murdered his mother-in-law, wife, two brothers-in-law and three children on suspicion that they had plotted against him. In today’s Gospel, Herod asks the chief priests and scribes where the Messiah is to be born. The answer Matthew puts on their lips tells him, and us, much more, combining two strands of Old Testament promise – one revealing the Messiah to be from the line of David (see 2 Samuel 2:5), the other predicting “a ruler of Israel” who will “shepherd his flock” and whose “greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth” (see Micah 5:1-3). Later, the scribes and Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus because he had criticized them and tried to reform some of their practices. Today, many oppose Christ and his Church because of their selfish motives, evil ways and unjust lives.

The group that ignored Christ:  The scribes, the Pharisees, and the Jewish priests knew that there were nearly 500 prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the promised Messiah. They were able to tell Herod the exact time and place of Jesus’ birth.   They were in the habit of concluding their reading from the prophets on the Sabbath day by saying, “We shall now pray for the speedy arrival of the Messiah.”   Unfortunately, they were more interested in their own selfish gains than in discovering the truth. Hence, they refused to go and see the child Jesus — even though Bethlehem was quite close to Jerusalem.  Today, many Christians remind us of this group.   They practice their religion from selfish motives, such as to gain political power, prestige and recognition by society.   They ignore Jesus’ teachings in their private lives.

The group that adored Jesus and offered Him gifts:  This group was composed of the shepherds and the Magi.  The shepherds offered the only gifts they had: love, tears of joy, and probably woolen clothes and milk from their sheep.  The Magi, probably Persian astrologers, were following the star that Balaam had predicted would rise along with the ruler’s staff over the house of Jacob (see Numbers 24:17). The Magi offered gold, in recognition of Jesus as the King of the Jews; frankincense, in acknowledgment that He was God, and myrrh as a symbol of His human nature. “Like the Magi, every person has two great ‘books’ which provide the signs to guide this pilgrimage: the book of creation and the book of sacred Scripture. What is important is that we be attentive, alert, and listen to God Who speaks to us, Who always speaks to us.” (Pope Francis)

Pope Francis gives his “Top New Year’s Resolutions”:
– “Take care of your spiritual life, your relationship with God, because this is the backbone of everything we do and everything we are.”
– “Take care of your family life, giving your children and loved ones not just money, but most of all your time, attention and love.”
– “Take care of your relationships with others, transforming your faith into life and your words into good works, especially on behalf of the needy.”
– “Be careful how you speak, purify your tongue of offensive words, vulgarity and worldly decadence.”
– “Heal wounds of the heart with the oil of forgiveness, forgiving those who have hurt us and medicating the wounds we have caused others.”
– “Look after your work, doing it with enthusiasm, humility, competence, passion and with a spirit that knows how to thank the Lord.”
– “Be careful of envy, lust, hatred and negative feelings that devour our interior peace and transform us into destroyed and destructive people.”
– “Watch out for anger that can lead to vengeance; for laziness that leads to existential euthanasia; for pointing the finger at others, which leads to pride; and for complaining continually, which leads to desperation.”
– “Take care of brothers and sisters who are weaker … the elderly, the sick, the hungry, the homeless and strangers, because we will be judged on this.”

Like the Magi, let us offer Jesus our gifts on this feast of Epiphany. (a) The first gift might be friendship with God.  After all, the whole point of Christmas is that God’s Son became one of us to redeem us and call us friends. God wants our friendship in the form of wholehearted love and devotion.  (b)  A second gift might be friendship with others. This kind of friendship can be costly.   The price it exacts is vulnerability and openness to others.   The good news, however, is that, in offering friendship to others, we will receive back many blessings.   (c)  A third gift might be the gift of reconciliation.    This gift repairs damaged relationships.   It requires honesty, humility, understanding, forgiveness and patience.   (d)   The fourth gift of this season is the gift of peace:  seeking God’s peace in our own lives through prayer, the Sacramental life and daily meditation on the Word of God. It is out of humble gratitude that we give Him from the heart our gifts of worship, prayer, singing, possessions, and time. As we give our insignificant, little gifts to God, the good news is that God accepts them! The Magi offered their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, we offer what we have, from the heart, in response to what that Child has given to us – Himself.