6 Jan 2013
Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany; an ancient feast. The first written reference we have of the celebration of the Epiphany goes back nearly 1700 years in Egypt.
The Gospel opens with the Wise Men arriving in Jerusalem enquiring where they can find the child who has been born king of the Jews. At that time, Herod was king of the Jews – and a most unpopular king at that. He had been appointed king by the Roman emperor about 40 years before the Wise Men arrived and he had the reputation of being both brilliant for his building accomplishments (which included the magnificent reconstruction of the Temple) and ruthless for his merciless killing of anyone he considered a threat to his throne. This included his wife (on suspicion of adultery), his mother-in-law (who was plotting with Cleopatra of Egypt to avenge her daughter’s death), his uncle, brother-in-law and three of his sons.
It was into this political and religious climate that Jesus was born and into which the Wise Men from the East arrived in Jerusalem.
It’s not difficult to imagine Herod’s intense displeasure and desire to kill the child on hearing about the newborn king of the Jews. After the Wise Men had seen the infant Jesus and left Bethlehem by a different route to avoid seeing Herod again, in a vain attempt to eliminate any threat this newborn King may pose to him, Herod had all the infant boys in the areas surrounding Bethlehem under the age of two killed (including one of his own sons).
On hearing about this the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus is reputed to have said “I would rather be Herod’s pig than his son.”
We don’t know what brilliant star those ancient Wise Men, the Magi, saw and we don’t know how many of them there were or where they came from. What we do know is that God made the good news of the birth of Jesus known to the world by a suitable sign; a sign which guided their journey. That is the message of Epiphany; Light has come into our world.
A young student, asked to summarize the gospel in a few words, responded saying: “In the Bible, it gets dark, then it gets very, very dark, then Jesus shows up.”
The feast of the Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of Christ, the Light of the world, to the world: to both the Jews and the Gentiles; to all nations represented by the Magi.
On Christmas day the shepherds worshipped him, on this day the Magi. To the shepherds the message was brought by angels, to the Magi, by a star. Both learned about him from heaven. God, by the signs he gives, invites all people to seek and find the saviour.
The Wise Men found the Christ-child with the help of the Jewish chief priests and scribes; they who knew the scriptures thoroughly. Matthew illustrates that a mere academic knowledge of scripture is practically worthless. They had Holy Scripture at their fingertips but not in their hearts; knowing about God is not the same as serving him.
St Augustine, preaching about the Epiphany some 1600 years ago in Hippo (known today as Annaba in Algeria) said: “What, after all, would it have cost them to become the Magi’s companions in their quest for the Christ; together with them to see, together to understand, together to do homage? They pointed to Bethlehem but did not then seek Christ who was born there. When they did see him later, they would deny him; not then when he was a speechless infant, but later when he spoke to them, they would slay him.”
On this feast day we’re invited to come to the Christ-child once again with the Wise Men. And like the Wise Men we’re encouraged to take a different way home; to make a change in the direction of our lives.
Traditionally this is the time in the year when we resolve to make changes; New Year resolutions.
We’re inclined to focus our resolutions on changes to our waistlines and weight; or to our cash flows and budgets; or to our habits and routines. And that’s all good. But are these really our top priorities?
Is there not within each of us the desire to be more than we have been in the year past? More loving, more generous, more tolerant, more patient, more understanding, more forgiving, more prayerful….. more like Christ? And have we included these desires in our resolutions?
With the Wise Men, let’s open our gifts and offer them to Jesus in our New Year resolutions.
We offer gold – representing our material wealth, our possessions and resources – let’s resolve to be generous and use them as a means to bring the Light into a dark world.
We offer frankincense – representing our worship – let’s resolve to grow in our relationship with Jesus. Spend more time in prayer, reflection and adoration; more time reading scripture and spiritual literature.
We offer myrrh – representing our humanity and mortality – let’s resolve to use our gifts, our talents, our time and our physical well being, in God’s service; in and through our homes and families, our work, our studies and recreation,
More than two thousand years ago a baby was born in Bethlehem of Judea. That event changed the world forever.
Christ is the light of the world, and we who are followers of Christ are called to reflect that light. We do that by continuing to shine the light of his love into our dark world; touching the lives of all we meet with love.
The philosopher Plato once wrote, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark: the real tragedy of life is when adults are afraid of the light.”
We can do better in this new year.
We come to the manger seeking to find the Christ-child.
We find and receive our Lord, Jesus Christ, in the Blessed Sacrament.
That should be more than sufficient motivation for us to want to change our lives and walk this year by a different road.