The Feast of the EPIPHANY
Created on 6th January, AD 2013
Written by Bp. John E. Upham
(TEXT: St. Matthew 2:1 – 12.)
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
“When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him . . .When they had heard the king, they departed; and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.”(St. Matthew 2:1-2, 9).
Twelve days ago we commemorated and celebrated one of the most holy miracles of our Faith. For on that night God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, burst forth onto the stage of our human history. Emmanuel – God with us, in fulfillment of the ancient prophecies, became human and was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary; not as a great King in royal surroundings, but as a tiny, helpless, and defenseless baby; not born in a royal palace before waiting crowds of courtiers, but in what was probably a cave used as a stable; in what would be considered a very harsh and bleak environment; dark, still, dirty, and silent; and the great mystery of the Incarnation – God taking on our human flesh – and, ultimately, securing for all humanity our Salvation, unfolded before Mary, Joseph, the animals, and some shepherds. Today, at the beginning of a new season of the Church Year, and throughout Epiphany, we commemorate the manifestation of Jesus to the world. Not just to the Jews, but to the Gentiles as well – a “showing and a shining forth” of Jesus as the Light of the world and the Saviour and Redeemer of all people.
This particular expression of revelation is found in the arrival of what the Western Church has called the three Magi or Wise Men from Eastern lands. Holy Tradition tells us that they were probably Zoroastrian priest/astronomers from Persia, whose study and observation of the celestial bodies revealed to them that a mighty ruler was being born in the West and they were compelled to follow the sign which held this portent. What is it that they saw in the heavens which would have caused them to make such a tremendous journey; far from comfort, family, and familiar surroundings? You all know the story. It was a star. But not just any star. This was a star which shone brighter and hotter than any that they had ever before observed. There was no ignoring its brightness in the night sky or even during the day, evidently. This was something never seen before or since in its intensity and brilliance.
We know from extra-biblical sources that something like this occurred around the time of the birth of Jesus. Other astronomers of the period saw it too and we now know that the “Star” was probably the conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn, and although millions of light-years away from earth, it was the most brilliant feature in the night sky and these Wise Men or Magi “followed” it westward.
After their encounter with Herod in Jerusalem and his disingenuous interest in the birth of the new-born King, which spawned his massacre of the innocent infants of Bethlehem two years old and younger, the Magi reached their journey’s destination. Hollywood and Hallmark would have us believe that they arrived the night of Jesus’ birth. But St. Matthew’s record just doesn’t bear that out. Chapter 2, verse 11 relates, “And when they were come into the house (the Holy Family had evidently been housed in human abode by now), they saw the young child (not infant), with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him . . .” So surely, it took some time for the Magi to come to Jesus. They overcame the barriers of distance, difficulty, and danger to come unto the Saviour; distance, for it is a tremendous journey to travel from what was then Babylonia or Persia, by camel, to Bethlehem; difficulty, for there were no Motel Six’s or McDonald’s along the way at which to stop and be refreshed – not even Interstate Rest Stops; and danger, in that they, as were all travelers, subject to attacks by robbers, outlaws, and/or wild animals. Even by all of that they never stopped or turned back from their journey, but continued, onward, until they reached the goal of worshipping the Christ Child.
St. Matthew goes on to tell us that, “ . . . and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” These were gifts fit for a king, not the baby of a poor family. Yet those gifts held within themselves the prophecy of who the Child really was and is; gold, to signify His royal personage; frankincense, to indicate His Divinity; and myrrh, to announce that He would give His life as a ransom for many; all three announcing and revealing to the world that this Jesus is Prophet, Priest, and King. That’s the manifestation we celebrate and join with the Church in proclaiming today. And if that were all, it would be enough. But it isn’t all. Much of this event forms and informs our personal journey to God.
We need to keep three images in our minds and hearts. One, the Magi, themselves; two, the Star and the Christ Child; and three, the gifts. First, the Magi and the Star. On this Sunday of the Epiphany, the Wise Men signify for us the universality of the manifestation of Christ as Our Saviour. In his book The Infancy Narratives, Pope Benedict writes, “ . . . tradition has further developed this idea of universality by conceiving them as kings from all three known continents: Africa, Asia, and Europe.” This is why some Nativity scenes portray the kings as black, oriental, and Caucasian. For in Jesus there are no distinctions as to race or origin. He came to save all humanity and to reconcile everyone of us back unto the Father. The Star, that great light which led the Magi to Christ in the first place, is replaced by Jesus, Himself, the Light of the World, who leads us all to the Father and reveals Him to us. Jesus said this in His words recorded by St. Matthew, Chapter 11, verse 27, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him.” All that we know of the Father has been revealed to us by the Son, Jesus, the Word of God, as He lived, taught, and ministered among us. Finally there are the gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
As the Magi brought those gifts to the Christ Child, so should we. Our gifts must be like the gifts which the Magi brought. But, admittedly, those gifts are impractical to bring. So what do we do? Frankincense was the gift of Divinity. Our gift which we bring this day to the Christ Child and for the rest of our lives is our worship of God each and every day. Like the incense we use at Church, our worship of God ascends to heaven like our prayers, becoming a sweet smelling savor to the Father. Likewise, the myrrh which the Magi brought, which prophesied Jesus’ Sacrifice for the sins of the world, translates into our own sacrifice to God by putting Him first in our lives and mortifying our human wills to His most Holy Will.
Finally, there is gold, the most precious and valuable commodity then known. Does that not represent the most precious and valuable gift that we can offer God? What is that? It’s our soul, isn’t it? Our soul, which God created in the first place, is the greatest gift we can give back to God, thereby committing ourselves to a relationship with God for all eternity. It’s following the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, through all barriers of distance, difficulty, and danger. It’s about following the Light all the way to our journey’s final destination – the Presence of God Almighty and dwelling with Him for all eternity.
Next week we will hear and remember Jesus’ Baptism and His further manifestation to the world at the beginning of His public ministry. But today, our journey begins as the Wise Men’s ended and we join the never-ending procession throughout history that leads us, for all eternity, to God. As the Collect of the Day implies, the Wise Men were led by sight. We are led on our journey to God by faith in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Let us pray.
ALMIGHTY God, Who to wise men who sought Him didst manifest the Incarnation of Thy Son by the bright shining of a star: grant that, as they presented unto Him gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, so we also out of our treasures may offer to Him ourselves, a living sacrifice acceptable in Thy sight; through Him Who for our sakes was born on earth a little child, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And now, unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost be ascribed all might, majesty, power, and dominion as is most justly due this day both now and forever; world without end. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA – +JEU