6 Jan 2008
“On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother; and htye knelt down and paid Him homage.” (Matt. 2:11) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
Epiphany is simply the Greek word that means to show forth, to manifest. Even today the word epiphany is used to refer to an awakening. Moments of insight and inspiration are called epiphanies. The Feast of Epiphany on the twelfth day after Christmas celebrates the manifestation of Jesus to the world. When the Magi arrive at the house of Jesus in Bethlehem, and there these men of wisdom and wealth kneel down before the humble child, it is an awakening. The Magi have traveled a great distance from the East as they follow the star that universally announces the Saviour who has been born in Israel. In this sense, they symbolize the nations of the world coming into God’s one kingdom. They first visit King Herod at his palace expecting quite logically to there find the newborn King of the Jews. What a moment of inspiration it must have been for them when the child was found instead not in a palace, not even for that matter known to the royal household, but in the absolutely ordinary surroundings of Bethlehem, in the absolutely ordinary house of Mary and Joseph.
To look for this Epiphany in some ancient cosmological event is to look in the wrong direction. This isn’t about astronomy; it’s about faith. It’s not about looking up into the sky; it’s about looking up to God. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah foretold of caravans of camels bringing riches and people to a resurgent Israel, and among those gifts will be gold and frankincense, symbols of richness and divinity. This very passage begins with these words of prophecy: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and His glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isa. 60:1-3) The light that shines through the darkness is the Lord Himself. The Epiphany is to see in that ordinary child in that ordinary house in that ordinary city of Bethlehem the Saviour of all the world, to be privileged to appreciate the insight that this child brings God Himself into our world.
The Bethlehem Star has been used by Matthew to symbolize this divine light that has come into our world, but the real epiphany, the real manifestation, is our awareness of who this child really is. Matthew is not any more familiar with Luke’s story of Christmas than Luke is of Matthew’s. Luke tells of a stable and angels sent to shepherds; Matthew tells of a house and a star that guides the Magi. Christmas trees reflect these two different stories when they’re topped by either Luke’s angel or Matthew’s star. One is not better than the other or more accurate. They both reflect a different aspect of the mystery of the Incarnation, that God has been born as one of us among us.
There may be differences as to house or stable, star or angel, but one teaching remains consistent throughout. Luke tells of the child being born in the harshness of an animal’s manger, and then speaks of Simeon’s prophecy that this child will “be a sign that will be opposed.” (2:34) Matthew, who is usually careful with the old Jewish prophecies, changes Isaiah’s message when it comes to his story of the Epiphany. Isaiah mentions only gifts of gold and frankincense, gifts that bear a message of dignity and reverence. Matthew, however, adds a third named gift, the gift of myrrh, the burial spice, the spice that will be placed in the tomb with Jesus on Good Friday. He is human and mortal, and His sacrificial death is what allows all of us to approach God as forgiven.
This will be a part of Jesus’ life story from the moment His birth as Saviour. This is what not even the prophets of old could see. Today we read from the Epistle to the Ephesians these words about the mystery of Christ: “In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (3:5-6) The light of Bethlehem has parted the darkness, and that ordinary child, the child destined to die, the child who as we heard at Mass on His name day “emptied Himself [of His equality with God], the child therefore shorn of everything except the human nature He shares with all people everywhere, reveals to us the universal impact of Jesus’ life. He wasn’t born only as a Jew for Jews, or as a male for men, or even as a Christian for Christians. Jesus was born as an ordinary human being for all people. This awareness is meaning of Epiphany.
And our Epiphany as people of church, as people of faith, as Christians, is to see all people as cared for by God, as every person being one of the reasons why Jesus was born as one of us. Religion has the unfortunate power to separate, but the Epiphany is to see in Christ, in God made human, that we are all sacred in the eyes of God. I think we’re all beginning to learn how small and interconnected our world is. We help fill the air with the carbon dioxide of our modern living and half a world away the impoverished people in the low-lying country of Bangladesh face the destruction of storm and sea. Somebody in China will today make something that we will use or consume in the near future. If they are unscrupulous, we get ill. The oil that is heating this church right now probably came from the Middle East, and we’re so dependent upon that oil that our men and women of the Armed Forces are going to be stationed there for who knows how long. Our world is small, and that means we all have a responsibility to each other. The message of a small world is the message of Epiphany. Jesus was born as one of us for all of us, and now as His followers this Epiphany Sunday we need to live according to His example and try to think and act as often as we can as one people sharing one small, irreplaceable earth. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)