Becoming Beacons of Light Like the Wise Men

User’s Guide to Sunday, the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord.

The world received the news of the birth of the Prince of Peace because of the Magi.
The world received the news of the birth of the Prince of Peace because of the Magi. (photo: Unsplash)

Sunday, Jan. 3, is the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. Mass Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-13; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12.

In the celebration of the Epiphany we recall the manifestation or appearance of God to the world. Whereas the Jewish shepherds were witnesses to the divine Child the very night he was born, it was not until the Wise Men, mentioned in today’s Gospel, that the Savior was revealed to the furthest reaches of the world.

About that world, the first reading from Isaiah tells us of a globe covered in darkness. However, the world will be brightened, Isaiah tells Jerusalem, and “nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.” This is possible because “the Lord shines upon” that great city that is illumined by the “glory of the Lord,” and they will see travelers from far-distant lands, “bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord.” 

It is because of passages like this from Isaiah that this solemnity was sometimes referred to as the “Day of the Lights.” The Light of the people of Israel, the chosen people of God, illumines not just them, but the whole world, which is called to worship the one true God. The Psalmist speaks of this goal with the antiphon “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” And St. Paul in the second reading reminds us that, with the coming of Christ, “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” 

This divine Child who we celebrate is not only a God for a particular people, then, but he is a God for all the world. 

As such, the cosmic signs of kingship, manifested in the star mentioned in today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, point to his birth. The Magi from the East are drawn to him. 

Scholars debate about who they were exactly, but what is clear is that they took on a great expense and a great risk by traveling so far to a land they knew not. We also know their intention: They traveled not for revolution or for their own personal gain, but in order to find a king and “do him homage.” When the star led them to their destination, St. Matthew tells us that “they were overjoyed.” And when they entered the house, “they prostrated themselves” and fulfilled their purpose by worshipping the Child. 

The readings today reveal to us not just who Jesus is, but they reveal something about ourselves and about human nature. The Eastern Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann once wrote that the cure to our contemporary, societal crisis of faith is in part recognition that the human person is a worshiping being that yearns to praise God. And this is what drove those Magi to leave the safety of their homes. Once we have come to worship the one true God, we will be more fully ourselves, “overjoyed” at finding the Lord. We will be truly enlightened, and so will become like beacons of light in this valley of darkness.

The Solemnity of the Epiphany celebrates the appearance of God to the world, and it tells us who we long to be: adorers of the true God. May we all, then, in this new year, embrace our interior call to worship the Lord well.