What's the point? What is it that we're meant to understand, this late into the Christmas season?
Do we really need to bother with the Feast of the Epiphany? By the time it rolls around later in the week, many families will have put away the Christmas decorations, children will have returned to school and adults will have returned to work. Do we really need to gin up another Feast Day just so that we can sing “We Three Kings” once a year?
The short answer is: “Yes.” A better answer: “We need the Feast of Epiphany to know who the son of Mary really is, and to know what we owe him and the world he came to save. Because Jesus is the Christ of God, we who claim to be his disciples must become worshipers, witnesses and workers.”
The Epiphany (which in Greek may be translated as “showing,” “display” or “revelation”) is the fulfillment of prophecies that God would be worshiped by all the nations as he moves to rescue all from sin and bring them to himself. God is shown to be faithful, present and sovereign. Therefore, God and his Christ are worthy of worship and obedience, as the three wise men show us.
They gave the Christ child gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh—gold for his kingship; frankincense for his priesthood; myrrh to prophesy that he was born to die (John 19:39). The son of Mary is divine and reigns (even now!) as king; the son of Mary is the one true high priest who offers sacrifice; the son of Mary offers the sacrifice of his own life for the salvation of sinners. How could we not owe him worship and obedience?
Saint Ignatius Loyola said: “No good can be done without the world being set in an uproar and Hell’s legions roused.” That is most true of Christ’s saving mission. Satan knows that he will be defeated by the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ. Satan’s instrument, Herod, tried to kill the Christ child. Satan himself tries to corrupt Christ by temptation in the desert. Both failed—but neither has stopped. Satan and his instruments still try to murder or corrupt Christians. That is why Christians must be not only worshipers but also witnesses.
Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. He is the fullness of truth—the Word of the Father. He is the saving truth. The world is in the grip of a deadly darkness to the degree that it does not know Christ. How shall we explain ourselves to God and the world if we do not strive to win hearts and minds for Christ? We are called to bring Christ to the world and the world to Christ.
In a world that can be blind, deaf, indifferent, or even murderously hostile, how shall we proclaim the Christ as Epiphany demands? In a world that in times and places is in the grip of Satan (sometimes even gladly so!), how shall we worship Christ worthily and witness to him faithfully? We must become workers.
I say we must become workers because it is work—hard work—to know the Faith, to cultivate virtue, to fight spiritual battles, to tell the truth, to love what is good and beautiful. And our fast-paced world demands so much of us that it is all too easy for us to have little or nothing to give to that most important work, which is to cultivate saints while becoming saints ourselves.
We Christians must become workers because the fallen world delights in re-telling and denouncing our sins and faults—both our real sins and faults and those that are imagined. Our Christian witness will not be credible if we do not do the work of setting the record straight about Christians who are loved sinners with a saving truth to tell. And our witness will not be credible if we do not perform the corporal works of mercy. Saint Ignatius Loyola said that, “Love is shown more in deeds than in words.” Our service of justice and charity, done for the love of Christ and those whom he loves, can become our inarguable defense—good works that cannot be overlooked or explained away. Our witness will be more credible when we can say, “Because of who Christ is and who you are to Christ, I choose to love and serve you.”
The Feast of Epiphany, then, is not a mere afterthought or some Christmas anti-climax. It reveals the character of God and the nature of his Christ. It reveals to the disciple of Christ their identity and mission as worshipers, witnesses and workers. Between now and the feast day, let’s make plans to celebrate, and let’s make plans to do the work that Epiphany demands.
When I write next, I will speak of some surprising alternatives to New Year’s Resolutions. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.