January 6, 2019 Epiphany of the Lord Homily

“Where is the newly born King of the Jews?. . .We have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord was where we recall that moment in the History of Salvation when God revealed to the world the Savior by means of the star that led the Magi to Bethlehem.  The word ‘epiphany’ is from the Greek word ‘epiphaneia’ which means “an apparition, manifestation, or revelation,” or of “God becoming visible to the Gentile world.”  We celebrate the manifestation in Jesus Christ of all the revelations of God, which he had spoken through the prophets. The young Messiah is revealed as the light of the nations.

The feast of the Epiphany, was kept in the East Rite and in certain western Churches before being observed in Rome.  It was originally called  a feast of the nativity; January 6, for the Eastern Rite churches and was the equivalent of Christmas (December 25) in the Roman Church. The feast was introduced at Rome in the second half of the sixth century and is now considered the crown of the Christmas festival.

God revealed the star of Bethlehem, to the wise men from the East, who willingly left everything, in pursuit of a quest.  When they arrive in Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews, they are sure they will be shown where the King has been born.  They were told: “In the town of Bethlehem in Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote” (Matthew 2:5).  The news of the arrival of the Magi and their inquiry spreads around Jerusalem quickly.

Jerusalem was, at that time, a small city and the presence of the Magi with their escort must have been noticed by all its inhabitants.  The gospel tells us “when Herod heard this he was greatly disturbed and with him all Jerusalem” (Matthew 2:3).  Herod asked the Magi to find this new born king, and then to come back and tell him what they have seen.  Herod wanted to know where this newborn was as it was a threat to his power.  The Magi left Jerusalem, and guided by the Star came to the stable where the new born king lay.  In their diligent search they were led to the source of true knowledge – to Jesus Christ, the Light and Wisdom of God.  When they found the newborn Jesus, “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) and “King of Kings” (Revelations 19:16), they humbly worshiped him and gave him gifts fitting for a king, after which they went home by a different route.

God first made known to the shepherds of Bethlehem the birth of Christ.  God then revealed Him to the Magi who have come from the East to adore Him.  Christian tradition has ever seen in the Magi the first fruits of the Gentiles; they lead in their wake all the peoples of the earth, and thus the Epiphany is an affirmation of universal salvation.

The setting of the Epiphany has an important message for us as spoken to us today in Paul’s Epistle from Ephesians  “The gentiles now share the same inheritance, they are parts of the same body, and the same promise has been made to them, in Jesus Christ, through the Gospel” (Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6).  The Epistle is a revealing picture of the “darkness” of the Jewish Old Testament; a prophecy also of the “brightness” of Christ shining in a world where men may now “see.”.

Saint Paul, a devout Jew, tells us how he became aware that God’s love was even for the Gentiles, the non-Jewish people.  God’s love is for everyone.  In the encounter of the wise men with Jesus we see the plan of God to give his only Son as King and Savior, not just for the Jewish people but for all the nations as well.  The Son is given for all of us, not just for a chosen group—for all of us.  He is the only Savior of the world!  Humanity can realize itself only in the Light of God, only in Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

The Lord Jesus came that both Jew and Gentile might find true and lasting peace with God.  The challenge for us today is to recognize that God’s love is for all peoples, and especially for those peoples and nations and persons who seem most impossible to accept.  God wants us all and God is working in all, even when we cannot see it.  Once we begin to accept that God is present in all, we will find that speaking of the Lord is not so difficult after all.  Instead, we might find that we naturally speak of God to others and that our own love and faithfulness could draw others to God and to our Lord Jesus.

The Prophet Isaiah tells us: “Rise up!  Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.  Nations shall walk by your light…” (Isaiah 60:1).  These words are written, not just for Jerusalem or Israel, but they apply to every nation and group of people on earth.  The light, that Isaiah speaks of, is the star which the Magi see in the East.  The Magi discover its meaning and realize the fact that, with the star, God is sending them an important message.  Their hope of finding the King leads them to follow the star, which the prophets had spoken of and which the people of Israel had been waiting for centuries.

The light of the Lord shines on us always to lead us to God our Creator and Redeemer!  We must bear witness to the light of God.  The Light of God illumines our path to help us lead others to God.    In our time, darkness seems to be growing in its power and potency because we are abandoning the root of our Christian Faith given the challenges we face in today’s world.

Everything that is not rooted in the faith and illumined by the Light of God is opposed to it.  Be aware that light and darkness can never co-exist.  We also know that light conquers always every form of darkness as we heard in the Gospel Reading of today (Matthew 2:1-12).  King Herod wanted to fight and quench the Light, but the Light is always victorious.  Whoever fights the Light destroys themselves just as Herod did.  Without God and the illumination that radiates from Him we become gloomy and despondent.  The instability that manifests itself in our lives, in our families, in the Church, in the society and in the world at large is because of the daily effort, knowingly and unknowingly, willingly and unwillingly, to abandon the Light.

On the other hand, when we follow the Light, we encounter Jesus Christ like the magi.  This light is truly stronger than every power of darkness.  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).  This Light is Jesus Christ!  To know and to encounter Jesus Christ is to know God personally.  We become missionaries of the Light, we become bearers of the Light in the world; the world that is in dire need of the Light of faith.  Just like the sun enlightens the moon and the stars and the other luminous heavenly bodies, so also God in Jesus Christ enlightens us as His moons and stars.  The star led the three magi to Jesus, so we must lead others to Him.  The Feast we celebrate today invites us to ignite the world afresh with the light of God in us; to illumine the dark corners of our societies with the rays from the Light of God shining through us.

The story today is of the Magi from the East, the story of the star drawing and guiding wise men to the Lord.  We don’t have a lot of details about how this happened, but our Gospels tell us that God Himself chooses to reveal Himself to all peoples and that God Himself uses various ways to do that.  Yes, our witness is important, but so also are the unexplained ways in which God makes Himself know.

If Jesus truly is who he claims to be, the eternal Son of God and Savior of the world, then why is he not recognized by everyone who hears his word and sees his works?  John the Evangelist states that when Jesus came into the world the world knew him not and his own people received him not (John 1:10-11).  Jesus was born in obscurity.  Only the lowly shepherds recognized him at his birth.

Jesus Christ crosses the paths of the lives of many people who are not interested in Him.  A little effort would have changed their lives; they would have found the King of Joy and Peace.  This requires a willingness to look for Him, to move around, to ask without losing heart —like the Magi— to leave our comfort, our routine.  It requires an effort to appreciate the immense value of finding Christ.

What is implied is that in each of us is a drawing to God, an attraction to the Lord, which will eventually bring us to Him.  If we are to see Him, our hearts must be open to Him.  If we are to live in Him, our hearts must be able to embrace Him.  God is revealing Himself to you and to me right now.  We need to open our eyes to His light and open our hearts to His love.  If we do not find Him, we have not found anything in life, because only He is the Savior: finding Jesus is to find the Path that leads us to know the Truth that gives us Life.  And without Him, nothing is worthwhile.

The Magi’s coming and worshiping Jesus, gives each one of us the same light of revelation to recognize and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to us.  It is through the help of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and opens the eyes of the mind, that we are able to understand, accept, and believe the truth which God has revealed to us through his Son, Jesus Christ.