The birth of Jesus, wonderful as that event was, was known to a few: to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the Magi, King Herod and his councilors, the High Priest and perhaps friends who heard about this wonder of God. But Epiphany which means ‘Manifestation’ or ‘Revelation’ is the showing forth of Jesus to the world. Epiphany tells us that in Jesus there is salvation for all.
In spite of the countless warnings the prophet Jeremiah and Isaiah gave to the kings and people of Israel, they did not remain faithful to God. Jerusalem was destroyed and the whole nation was carried into captivity and slavery in Babylon. Finally, following the Edict of Cyrus in 539 B.C., the first exile returned to their homeland, and soon the Temple of Jerusalem was rebuilt. The darkness of exile and slavery was lifted; the light of the Lord shone forth. The first reading which is called the book of restoration brings to the fore the return of the exiles.
Therefore, Isaiah puts it beautifully when he says “Arise and shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth and the thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you and his glory will appear over you” (Isaiah 60:1-2). He assures them that even though darkness has engulfed the land, the light of God will dispel that darkness.
Indeed, this light does not only shine to the Jews, the remnant of the peoples who returned from exile, it rays reach out like fingers of the dawn sun through the leaves of trees, to all the nations of the earth. “…the wealth of the nations shall come to you, the multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camel of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold, frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord” (Isaiah 60: 5b-6).
What Isaiah emphasizes here is the fact that salvation was now not limited only to the Jews but the entire of God’s creation. Midian, Ephah and Sheba are gentile towns and we know in the Gospels that the wise men from the east were gentiles and by presenting gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus they fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy.
The narrow concept of salvation that many Jews had namely salvation only to God’s chosen people must now give way to the image of a God who reaches out to draw all peoples of this earth to himself. To confirm this, the Psalmist says “All kings shall pay him homage; all nations shall serve him” (Psalm 72:11).
St. Paul in the second reading, challenged the Ephesus community to be that bearer of light to each other. He admonishes us to do same. He says, “ In former generationsThis 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 and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” ( Ephesians 3:5-6).
This first reading is fulfilled in the gospel reading of today. The universal nature of salvation is emphasized in the Gospel reading. The visit by the Magi to the infant king shows clearly that salvation is not only the preserve of the Jews anymore but everyone anywhere who acknowledges the sovereignty of God will be saved.
The attitude of the Magi is worthy of emulation. These men were wealthy men and scholars; scientists in their own right. Yet they followed the star like little children playing on the fields and upon seeing an aero plane passing, they decide to follow it as it were to its destination. No scholarly person who follows the light God gives him can miss worshipping at the feet of Jesus. Indeed, in Jesus Christ “Are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).
Their diligence in searching for the star that will lead them to Bethlehem is unimaginable. What was their motivation? A baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger? I believe strongly that like Simeon who recognize in the baby Jesus, the Messiah (Luke 2:22-32), they moved by faith. They did not allow their knowledge to cloud their vision.
Revelation has come to us but not all see it. What is worse than having an eye that cannot see? The learned (Wise men from the East) and the unlearned or outcast (Shepherds) saw it. Herod and his courtiers, the so called wise men of his court did not see the light. It is only those with the eyes of faith who will see beyond the ordinary.
For the many whose knowledge is leading them astray, your knowledge must lead out of ignorance onto the threshold of wisdom; it must lead you to the school of Jesus.
However, there is the danger of some of us behaving like King Herod who missed the opportunity to be saved. Yes salvation has come to all, but each and every one of us must work at it with fear and trembling. Perhaps we can shout out, “We are saved! We are free!” That is a fact. There is no need for anyone to bow to the slavery of sin because Christ has come to save us from the chains of death and our human spirit. Indeed, salvation is within our grasp. I am sure that if the Magi had become complacent because they had found their Messiah, they would have missed the opportunity to really encounter the infant king.
Again, when the Magi got to Bethlehem, “On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11). It is not enough to be a baptised Catholic and remain apathetic to your responsibilities; you cannot be a baptised Catholic and stay at home because you have been charge to exercise your ministry for the growth of the Church. Jesus needs our all, our time, our money, our energy for the growth of his Church. The Magi gave their best. What are you giving to Jesus?
• When we have seen the light, we must reflect it.
• The gifts the wise men presented must be our portion. Gold symbolises something valuable and incorruptible. We must therefore, put value on ourselves.
• Frankincense symbolises Christ’s priesthood. For us it means we must offer true worship to God.
• Myrrh goes with the passion of Christ. We must learn to endure the pain that goes with our calling. Others must benefit from what we have become. We must be distinct and stand out.
Already in the manger, the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that “The wolf shall live with the lamb… they will not hurt or destroy on all my mountain; for earth will be filled of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11: 6-9). Indeed, all creation is in silent adoration in the crib. Our whole life should be a life of silent adoration of Jesus; a worship in spirit and truth.
In sum, the Feast of Epiphany is our feast. It is the day we come to pay homage to Christ who has come to save us. It is a day of joy and we must celebrate it as such. However, some of us have allowed the worries and cares of this life to make us somber, sober and gloomy people, who do not celebrate anything at all, even our salvation. Other times too, we have allowed our celebrations to get out of hands that we lose the spiritual benefits- the kinds of celebrations that make us forget.