07 January 2012

CONTINUING EPIPHANIES OF THE LORD

Solemnity of the Lord’s Epiphany
Is 60:1-6/Ps 72/Eph 3:2-3, 5-6/Mt 2:1-12

Today is the Solemnity of the Lord’s Epiphany, but many prefer to greet one another, “Happy Three Kings!”  The world focuses on the visitors from the East and calls them with a confusing title: kings.  The Gospel, however, speaks not of three kings, but of two: Herod and Jesus – the first is an envious-turned-crazy king while the second is the King of Kings Himself.  The visitors from the East, as the Gospel introduces them to us, were magi, i.e., “wise men”.  They were astrologers who did not make a living by fortune-telling but lived by discerning the signs from the heavens.  They knew about the prophecy concerning the birth of Jesus and came to worship Him by the aid of celestial movements.  The focus of today’s feast is not these wise men but the Wisdom-of-God-incarnate, Jesus Christ the Lord.  Today, we, as Church, solemnly celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord.

“Epiphany” comes from the Greek verb, epiphainein, which means “to manifest or to display”.  Epiphaneia – an overwhelming manifestation, a striking appearance – is its noun form.

I propose for our reflection three striking manifestations from the solemnity we celebrate today.

First, God Himself.  While from ancient days, people already knew that God would send the world a savior, no one expected that that Savior would be His own Son Himself.  Given that it was His very own Son whom God gave us, this Son, while remaining divine, took upon Himself our frail nature and became human like us except sin.  No one even imagine that God would become human.  And because human, God’s Son, Jesus, did not appear as a grown-up right away.  Instead, He went through the normal process of coming into the world: He was conceived and gradually formed in the womb until Mary delivered Him into the world.  God manifested Himself to us in utter humility and poverty.  For a world accustomed to royalties being addressed with titles, placed on pedestals, and served by attendants on tip toes, God who became little is a shocking revelation, to say the least.

Second, the will of God.  While the Jews thought that they alone belong to the People of God, God disclosed His desire that all peoples be gathered into His kingdom – Jews and Gentiles alike.  The visitors from the East were non-Jewish and, therefore, Gentiles.  They represent all of us who are not Israelites.  That the blessed birth of the Savior of the world was also made known to them underlines the fact that, from the very beginning, God wills that all men and women be saved.  Yes, salvation came from the Jews, but it did not come for them only.  In the person of Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, God made clear that He is for all and that salvation is offered to all.  The Holy Child destined to be the very salvation of the world was visited not only by shepherds who were Jews, but uneducated and, obviously, poor but also by magi from the East who were non-Jewish, but educated and, probably, rich.  Celebrating the Solemnity of the Lord’s Epiphany is celebrating the beginning of the fulfillment the Prophet Isaiah’s vision in the first reading today: not only does the glory of the Lord already shines upon Jerusalem but nations also walk by that same glorious light.  In the second reading, St. Paul the Apostle explains, in brief, what this epiphany of God’s will means: we, who were once gentiles, are now co-heirs with the Jews, members of the same People of God, and collaborators of Christ Jesus.  God has disclosed His salvific will and continues to offer to all peoples the one and only Savior of the world: Jesus the Christ.

Third, finding God.  The irony of the story in today’s Gospel is that those who were supposed to know did not know that the Promised One was already born while those who were supposed to know not actually knew!  King Herod, the chief priests, the scribes, and all Jerusalem, with the benefit of the writings of the prophets, should be among the first to have visited Jesus, the newborn King of the Jews, shouldn’t they?  As far as availability of information was concerned, the data were already at their fingertips.  As regards geography, the birthplace of Jesus was right there in their midst.  Yet, visitors from faraway origins, whose great desire was to pay homage to Jesus, surprised them so much so that they were greatly troubled.  The magi were greatly overjoyed at seeing the star while Herod, and all Jerusalem, the Gospel today says, were greatly troubled.  For the magi, with their selves passionately involved, really waited for the birth of the Christ, but Herod and all Jerusalem, with their knowledge of the prophecies concerning the same birth, did not bother at all to find Him themselves.  I am quite amused that while the magi arrived in Jerusalem not because someone sent them there but because they themselves initiated the quest in search for Jesus, there seems to be a funny twist in verse eight of the Gospel today.  In verse eight, Herod now sends the magi to Bethlehem, with the instruction, “Go and search diligently for the child.  When you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may go and do Him homage.”  Funny, if not tragic, is it not?  Herod had the chance to join the quest for the Holy Child, but, no, he didn’t bother stepping out of the comforts of his palace to go through the trouble of finding Jesus for Himself.  With the information supplied by his chief priests and scribes, Herod knew but did not go.  With the same information, the magi now knew and so they went.  Herod did not even need to send them on their way with his sinister plan.  But apparently, verse eight says that King Herod sent the magi to Bethlehem; thereby giving its readers a comical image of the mad king.  Herod was a fool but the magi were truly wise.  Unlike Herod, those visitors from the East were not kings but they were wisemen indeed.

The challenge of today’s solemnity is for us to be wise, too.  Be wise in the ways of God.  On the one hand, His ways challenge us to recognize Him in the little, the humble, and the poor.  On the other hand, we are likewise challenged to be little, humble, and poor.  Jesus, the God who became little, would eventually declare in His teachings that whoever accepts a little child in His name welcomes Him and that unless we become like little children we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.

Because God disclosed His desire that all peoples belong to His kingdom, we also need to exercise greater inclusivity rather than exclusivity in our desire for the good of others.  God does not form cliques, much less ghettoes.  He gathers people and calls them ekklesia, i.e., church, the body whose head is Christ Jesus Himself.  The challenge for us is to continue reaching out to others and to include everyone in the gathering that God convokes.

And finally, knowing all that needs to know does not make one a wise fellow.  Putting into practice what one knows does show the wisdom of that person.  Faith is not a matter of knowing; faith is a matter of living.  If we want to find the Lord in all things and in all peoples, then it certainly takes more than knowing even just a little theology.  Finding the Jesus is searching for Jesus.  Meeting Jesus happens only in seeking Jesus.  Encountering Jesus is not only knowing Jesus; it is, most of all, living with Jesus, living for Jesus, and living like Jesus.

As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Lord’s Epiphany today, let us pray for one another so that the unfathomable grace of this Holy Eucharist transforms us and helps us become continuing epiphanies of the Lord.  Let us live simply and humbly.  Let us be inclusive not exclusive.  Let us live the Faith, not only know it.  In all these, may we always be wise in the ways of the Lord.

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