The Epiphany of the Lord ~ Sunday 8 January 2023 ~ Bible Readings for Mass (Mass during the day): I: Isaiah 60: 1-6; Responsorial: Psalm 72; II: Ephesians 3: 2a, 5-6; Gospel: Matthew 2: 1-12
This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. This feast is actually the more ancient of the celebrations around the incarnation of our Lord. And while it is always most thought of in the context of the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem it has long also included the baptism of our Lord and the first recorded miracle of Jesus at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. Epiphany is the sacred and awesome celebration that brings us to focus upon the manifestation of God, in Jesus Christ. It is centered upon these three great revelations of Jesus as recorded in our sacred and spiritual history. We recognize that epiphanies in the magnitude and context of the Gospels were very distinctive and meant for the physical incarnation of Jesus. Yet, as a people of faith, we also can trust the desire of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, to manifest or reveal Himself in and through our lives in these times and places in which we live.
So, should we not ask, What of Epiphany in this time, this year of 2023? To explore that question let us first explore this first gospel epiphany.
The Gospel of Matthew shares the familiar account of the Magi from the east following the star to Jerusalem and on to Bethlehem. It is likely that “the east” refers to what is now known as Iran and Iraq. The journey would have likely followed the fertile crescent for at least 1200 miles. It would have probably taken 4 to 5 months to travel by camel as tradition and historical context would have indicated. To follow a star indicates that these Magi, wise men or kings were well-educated and followers of astronomy and astrology. Their going to Jerusalem shows us they had some awareness of the faith of the Hebrew people. Their meeting with King Herod shows their own status was significant. But their following of the Scriptures and the star to an humble home in Bethlehem reveals an humility and commitment to seek the truth. It is from the first manifestation of the Christ to the nations that we are better able to follow our own quest to grow in the holy love who is Jesus.
So, what of epiphanies now as we begin this new year? Should we just be content to recognize these revelations of God are just for special times, places, and people? Or may we dare to believe that God with us, Jesus, longs to reveal to us and through us His glory, His mercy and love? Looking to the Light of the Living Word, indeed we can know of the longing in the heart of Christ to reveal more and more of God. It will not follow the same path or magnitude as the Magi. For our journey is our own, with God. But our Epiphany Quest will know the same sort of challenges and blessings.
As it was with the Magi so it is for us. To begin they had to follow the star, the light they had and knew. They did not know the Holy Scriptures as the Hebrews did. They followed a way that some saw as wrong. But God uses the light we have and know to bring us ever closer to Him. It is also necessary to see that it is often in the darkness of our life that we will discover that holy star of hope and grace leading us to know God as we never would have imagined. The Prophet in our first reading calls to Jerusalem (the church) to rise and shine as her light has come. The holy pilgrimage to an epiphany must allow that there will be dark nights of the soul.
The Epiphany Quest of our lives also must have faith. It is well and good to see, maybe recognize some light that would guide us closer to God. But it is wasted if that light is not acted upon with faith. The Magi might have been content to write some texts o their observations from Persia. They could have hypothesized what the star meant, to what did it lead? All from the comfort and safety of their homes. But as is always the case God is not going to lead us snuggled down in our comfort zones. However harmful or dysfunctional they might be. God calls us to TRUST, actively in steps of courage into places and worlds we may not know. We will likely not know where God is leading. But our holy Shepherd does. So we follow, we seek, Christ our Light in faith, and love.
It is not always seen but the story of the Magi coming to Jesus, and bringing their gifts is also a powerful lesson in love. It is easy to acknowledge the wise men followed the light they knew to The Light of Christ. It is also evident that great must have been their faith to travel those 1200 miles to honor, and adore The One they did not know. But it must also be seen that within their hearts, hungering for Him, was a love they could not yet understand. To bring such gifts and freely give them to this young child’s parents revealed a longing to give themselves to Him who called them each, to His side. So it is in our own Epiphany Quests. We must allow the call of Love, the call of God, to grow in our own encounters and realizations of He whose love would set us free.
The Magi would be warned in a dream, in a way perhaps unexpected, to return to their homes by another route. The dangers of hate and doubt shown by Herod were very real. We also have no record of how their epiphanies would change their lives. And perhaps that is a lesson for us as well. To see more, the manifestations of the mercy and glory of Jesus is the way of Epiphany. But how, to whom that is shared we only learn as we continue following that Bright and Morning Star who is the Christ.
What epiphanies will we encounter in this coming year? What dark nights of the soul will show to us His holy star of hope and peace? What priceless and powerful revelations of God’s love and design will we experience? It is only as we seek Him, born in Bethlehem, Emmanuel, in our lives and each other that we will learn the answer to Him who calls. It is a glorious quest of Light, Faith, and Love.
“Teach us to recognize the many forms of your Presence in the Church and in one another.” [From the Intercessions from Morning Prayer, Saturday before Epiphany]