People seeking truth may not follow stars or enter churches, but they could find Jesus in you
Just one verse each day.
Epiphany … such a beautiful word, isn’t it? It just sounds good rolling off the tongue. To us Catholics, the Epiphany is more than just a beautiful word; it signifies the feast in which we celebrate the manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Three Kings (or Wise Men, or Magi). To the rest of the English-speaking world, an epiphany is commonly thought of the moment when a great idea or insight occurs to someone (“I had an epiphany last night . . .”). Both senses find their root in the original Greek verb which means to reveal. In our case, THE Epiphany is God’s revealing himself to the world (His debut, so to speak) in the child Jesus. All other epiphanies pale in comparison.
Matthew recounts the Epiphany richly, with other little epiphanies, or revelations, each adding detail and beauty to the main event. So, which one shall we talk about today?
How about King Herod, who represents the civil powers of the world? He is obviously disturbed by the prophecy and fears losing his power, and therefore he seeks to kill the King of Kings. We still (sadly) see manifestations of this all the time in our world, of civil authorities trying to kill the Gospel.
How about the star? The star, in the sky and visible to all sought knowledge (truth), is meant to remind us that God always leads all people to Himself. We live in a world where people so often think that truth is found deep within themselves, and while self-reflection is often a good thing, ultimately people need to look outside of themselves (iPad’s don’t count) and to the heavens to see God Who shines brightly for those would just look up.
How about the Magi? These gentiles (non-Jews) are a sign to us that through the birth of Jesus, God’s special relationship to the Jews was being extended to the entire world. These Kings, wise because they honestly sought out the truth even though it would challenge their old beliefs, fell down in worship before the King of Kings. In doing so, they gave us an example of how to seek out the Lord and how we can all behave in His presence.
How about the gifts of the Magi, the gold, frankincense, and myrrh? These three gifts (from which we infer three Magi though their number is not attested) tell us about who that Child is. The gold means that He is a king, the frankincense means that he is a priest and intercedes with God on our behalf, and the myrrh (spices used in embalming) testify that this Jesus would eventually suffer and die for our sins. But you already know this.
How about our gifts? God gave us the greatest gift ever given in His Son, and we, like the Wise Men, do well to reciprocate. It is not so much that Jesus needs our gifts (not at all actually), but more that we need to give so that we can grow in our relationship to Him. In the absence of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (not normally available at the local convenience store), we nonetheless give our own gifts. We give up material things (gold) and in doing so, we remind ourselves that everything we have belongs to the King. We give him our prayers (incense) for ourselves and for others, and in doing so we are reminded how important it is to be in conversation with God. Lastly, we give Jesus our sufferings and afflictions (myrrh). In doing so, we are reminded that, despite that fact that we do suffer in this world, the suffering need not embitter us but, the Cross of Christ transforms them into hope.
Well, how about the location? All of these above things are worthy of contemplation, but for today, I would suggest that we focus on this aspect of the Epiphany.
We celebrate Christmas so often, it is easy to forget its magnitude. The infinite, all-powerful and eternal God of the Universe, because He loved us, poured Himself out of heaven and became man. But not just a man, a baby. Prophets and angels were for centuries proclaiming the Word of God, but in our stubbornness, God knew that we needed to really see Him and listen to Him, and so He came into this world as a baby to share in our human experience so we could relate to Him.
This great event did not happen in a great temple or palace or other grand venue. It happened in a stable with nobody else around but the Holy Family. Even the wisest of wise men could not have predicted this ridiculous humbling. Further, when the Magi traveled, following a miraculous star in the sky, they could not have imagined that it would lead them to a tiny little town on the outskirts of the great capital, nor to a simple house. How ordinary! Yet this is where they met the King of Kings.
This is perhaps one of the Epiphany’s greatest epiphanies. In a world of glitz, glamor and spectacle, it is easy for us to think that anything worth having or doing must be big and spectacular. We are tempted to think that, in order to touch the divine, we must do BIG things and go to BIG places. I am by no means suggesting that there is no place for these things, there most certainly is. We go churches and chapels, both big and small (but hopefully always beautiful) to be inspired and to worship God and be fed by Him, but we must always remember that the King of Kings is not restricted by those walls.
Jesus Christ is found in the people and in the ordinary events of our lives, and we are called to recognize and magnify that reality. The wise men of this world, men and women who are seeking the truth, might not be following a star and might not be drawn to enter into a grand church, but they will encounter you!
The Epiphany is not simply something that happened once two thousand years ago, but should be an event that is repeated in our daily lives when we become occasions for others to encounter Christ.
Be an epiphany!
Prepared for Aleteia by the Canonry of Saint Leopold. Click here to learn more about the Canons Regular of St. Augustine.