Feast of the Epiphany

Where is the newborn king of the Jews?

The feast Epiphany is the celebration of the first appearanceor manifestationof Jesus to the Gentiles.“Epiphany” refers to God’s self-revelation as well as the revelation of Jesus as His Son. The angels revealed Jesus to the shepherds, and the star revealed him to the Magi, who had already received hints of Him from Jewish scriptures.  Later, God the Father revealed Jesus’ identity at His baptism in the Jordan. In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus revealed himself as the promised Messiah.  At the transfiguration Jesus reveals to his disciples. These multiple revelations are all suggested and signified by the Feast of the Epiphany. Today’s gospel teaches us how Christ enriches those who bring Him their hearts. Since the Magi came with joy in their hearts to visit the Christ child,Godallowed them to see wondrous things. 

According to the sixth century Italian tradition, there were three magi – Caspar,Baltazhar, and Melchior- is based on the fact that three gifts are mentioned in Matthew’s gospel: gold, frankincense and myrrh. There is a legend, which speaks or a fourth Magi, whose name is Artaban. He too saw the star and decided to follow it, taking with him a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl as gifts for the new King. The others were waiting for him at an agreed sport. However, Artaban comes across a traveller lying by the roadside stricken down with fever. Though he knew this would delay and probably miss his friends, nevertheless, he stopped and brought the man to an inn and had him taken care of. Finally he reached the meeting place and found that the others departed without him.  He needed a camel and supplies to get across the desert. So reluctantly he had to sell the sapphire to buy them. 

When he reached Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary had already fled to Egypt to escape from Herod. Artaban was staying in a house where there was a year old boy. One evening the soldiers came to the door, Artaban with the ruby bribed the captain and saved the child. He continued his search for the King, but all in vain. Some thirty years later he came to the Holy city of Jerusalem and a number of crucifixions were taking place that very day he arrived. He heard that Jesus was one of them and hurried towards the hill of execution. However he met a girl who was fleeing from a band of soldiers, because her father had incurred a debt and was being sold into slavery. He hesitated for a moment, but took out the pearl and gave to the soldiers and freed the girl. Now he had to face the King empty handed. 

Just then the sky began to get dark. An earthquake shook the ground under his feet. Houses began to rock. Roof tiles began to fly and one of them hit Artaban on the head. Mortally wounded he struggled onwards, but died before reaching the hill of execution. He not only saw the star, but he allowed the king to enter into his life that inspired in him deeds of love and generosity, and had lit up all his journeys with meaning and hope. Anyone who searches for God sincerely will always find him and will always manifest in our life and actions.

Gold, frankincense and myrrh may be thought of as prophesying Jesus’ future. Gold was a gift for kings; frankincense (an ancient air purifier and perfume) was offered to God in temple worship (Ex. 30:37); and myrrh to prepare bodies for burial. (It was also used by the High Priest in the   anointing oil (Ex. 30:23). This gift of myrrh pointed out that Jesus was the sacrificial lamb whose death restored life. Finding much to ponder in these offerings, the Church Fathers often interpreted them as symbols of what every Christian is called to present to God: the goldof charity and good works, the incenseof prayer and faith, the myrrhof purifying suffering and belief in the resurrection.

Epiphany can be looked on as a symbol for our pilgrimage through life to Christ. The feast invites us to see ourselves as images of the Magi, a people on a journey to Christ.Today’s gospel also tells us the story of the magi’s encounter with the evil King Herod. This encounter symbolizes three reactions to Jesus’ birth: hatred, indifference, and adoration

a) A group of people headed by Herod plan to destroy Jesus

b) Another group composed of priests and scribes ignores Jesus

c) A third group — shepherds and the magi — adore Jesus and offer themselves to Him.

A) The destructive group

King Herod considered Jesus a potential threat to his kingship. He was a cruel and selfish king who murdered his mother-in-law, wife and three children on suspicion that they had plotted against him.  Later, the Scribes and Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus, because he criticized them and tried to reform some of their practices.  Today, many oppose Christ and his Church from selfish motives, evil ways and unjust lives.Children still have Herods to fear, because many of them do not see the light of the day.

B) The group that ignored Christ

The Scribes, 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 political power, prestige and recognition by society.  They ignore Jesus’ teachings in their private lives.

C) 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 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. 

Let us make sure that we belong to the third group

Worship Jesus every day at Mass with the gold of our love, the myrrh of our humility and the frankincense of our adoration.  Offer our very selves, promising God that we will use His blessings by doing goodto our fellow men. In the Christmas stable, the magi got transformed themselves. What Christ wants from us is a reformation of ourselves. Just as the Wise Men returned home to begin the work of transforming their own kingdoms, we too must go home and transform the world around us 

Like the wise men all of us are on a journey to get closer to Jesus our Savior. Like the wise men we too are relying on the grace of God to lead us to the light of Jesus our Savior. Like the wise men let us offer ourselves at His feet. May our hearts seek Christ, find Christ and love Christ.