The word epiphany in the Miriam Webster Dictionary is defined as:
- a sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something
- an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking
- an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
- a revealing scene or moment
That is what we celebrate today – Jesus is made visible to the Gentiles – those who were not a part of the chosen people finally see and understand that this is the Messiah, the Savior of the world. He is real. God has come to earth. These folks see and understand!
In the first reading from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, the prophet tells the people of Israel, ‘stand up and be proud because there is a light among you. The darkness is beginning to diminish and people will be coming to you – your sons and daughters are coming home. As your sons and daughters come home from exile you will become more and more who you are meant to be. They will come home and others will follow bringing great gifts.’
In the Gospel, Matthew gives his account of what happens after the birth of Jesus. The Gentiles, people from the East, hear that the King of the Jews has been born and they want to pay him homage. King Herod hears of this and is concerned. He wants to know where the King of the Jews will be born and so he consults the Jewish leaders. He learns that the King of the Jews is to be born in Bethlehem. He encourages the wise men to go in search of this King and when they find him, bring news back to him.
What is interesting is that the Jewish leaders do nothing to check out this possible King. It is the wise men, the Gentiles who seek the King. Matthew tells us that they follow the star and they find Mary and the child. The wise men offer this ‘Child-King’ gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. A dream warns them about the real intent of King Herod. and so they head home via a different route.
St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians reminds the early Christians of the extraordinary act of God that resulted in the birth of Jesus. He reminds them that they have heard of Jesus because of God’s grace given to him; given so that he might proclaim this news to the Gentiles.
In Sacred Scripture we often see characters who appear to be deeply religious, from all external signs, failing to recognize God and/or to do what God asks of them. The readings tell us that it is God’s intent to reach out to the People of Israel and to encourage, guide, lead, inspire, support, and direct his people by sending them a Messiah – his Son.
What is striking in both the gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew is that the leaders of the People of Israel – the scribes, the Pharisees, the priests fail to recognize and respond to the news of the Savior’s birth. The elderly, the shepherds and the Gentiles recognize who Jesus is and the role he is to play in the story of salvation. As we continue to read the gospels we will discover that Jesus is often in conflict with the leaders, the wise and the learned, the rich, and the powerful. It seems as if they cannot hear his message, they cannot recognize what God is doing.
How is it that the more powerful we become, the more learned we are, the more influential we are, the greater our wealth, how is it that we are unable to see God and what God wants of us? How is it that the poor, the outsiders, those who are marginalized hear the message, pay attention and seek the Lord.
Today, with the feast of the Epiphany, we are given a wake-up call. Those of us who are outwardly religious – who are engaged in the regular ritual life of the Church, people like me, priests, people who teach and who profess to know lots of things about the faith, are invited to pause and reflect on who we are and how we are.
Is the gospel we live and speak of, the same as the gospel that Jesus proclaimed with his words and with his life or do we pick and choose the parts we like?
Where do we look for Christ? Do we look for Christ among the well dressed, the rich, and the powerful?
Are we able to recognize the Christ who is present in our midst?
Do we align ourselves with those folks – political leaders and organizations who are determined to have more power, more money for themselves and their friends or are we looking to heal broken relationships, dysfunctional systems, and those who are poor and marginalized?
Today as we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany we are given evidence that God loves us, that he has come into our world to be with us and to walk with us? When Mary hears this news, we are told she treasures this news in her heart and she ponders the meaning of it.
Today sacred scripture reminds us that God has been revealed to us. What will we do with the evidence? Perhaps we can take a page from Mary’s life story. Perhaps we can pause and look for Christ in our world.
Perhaps we can think about what his presence means for the choices we make, the things we do!
Perhaps his presence can lead us to change the things we say and the things we do so that we become more and more like him!
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI