Jan. 5, 1997 The Epiphany of the Lord Mt 2, 1-12
THE MYSTERYof the Epiphany-which means “manifestation”-begins by manifesting something about ourselves. Like the “astrologers” in today's Gospel, it is not enough for us merely to know that Jesus is alive and living in the world as a human being. That information alone does not satisfy us. The Epiphany manifests our deepest, God-given desire to enter into the presence of Jesus. Our passive knowledge of the Incarnation comes to perfection in our active, personal experience of that miracle.
The astrologers manifest to us the sanctified way to respond to the gift of Christmas. It begins by putting Jesus first and making union with him their main priority. If the astrologers had been totally self-absorbed, pre-occupied with their own affairs and ambitions, they never would have “observed his star at its rising.” Instead, their alertness and sensitivity moves them to leave their lives behind for a while and follow the star. It is as if the astrologers already realize that their old life was devoid of meaning as they personally embrace the Incarnate Christ who reveals the very meaning of human existence to men and women.
This experience cannot happen simply in our thoughts, desires, and imaginings. Rather, like the magi, we must actually see Jesus. What the Lord manifests to us on the Epiphany must become the new focus of our life. And the star provides the light to gain that sight.
However, being in the presence of Jesus elicits something special from us. As the infant Jesus is presented to the astrologers by Mary his Mother, they are moved to worship. As they report to King Herod and all Jerusalem, this is their main motivation, purpose, and goal: they “have come to pay him homage.” Matthew informs us that, at this news, they all “became greatly disturbed.” The homage of the astrologers threatened their own security, authority and sense of self-importance; sometimes our own reluctance to pray and to stand humbly before God is tainted with these same fears.
The magi manifest to us the true glory and joy of humbly adoring God. As so many great sacred artists have depicted, the act of physical prostration puts the magi on the same level of Jesus in the arms of Mary. Ironically, our own humble worship spiritually puts us there as well. It disposes us to receive the justifying graces and the love of friendship that come to us from Jesus through Mary. As we spiritually offer our own gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, we in turn receive the benefits of Christ's divinity, priest-hood, and self-sacrifice as symbolized by the gifts.
Finally, the sacred encounter with the Holy Family changes the astrologers. They leave the house transformed. Mystically enlightened by God, the wise men go home “by another route.” That new route is The Way, Jesus, who in the Epiphany gives our life new direction, meaning and value. The Epiphany enables us to see in ourselves the beauty and goodness of God, which we are called to respond to with the fervent love that characterizes the new way of our life.
Father Cameron is a professor of homiletics at St. Joseph Seminary, Yonkers, N.Y.