The Epiphany of the Lord
vs.1 After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east.
vs.2 “Where is the infant king of the Jews?” they asked. “We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.”
vs.3 When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem.
vs.4 He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
vs.5 “At Bethlehem in Judaea,” they told him, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
vs.6 And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judaea, you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah, for out of you will come a leader who will shepherd my people Israel.”
vs.7 then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared,
vs.8 and sent them on to Bethlehem. “Go and find out all about the child,” he said “and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.”
vs.9 Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward and halted over the place where the child was.
vs.10 The sight of the star filled them with delight,
vs.11 and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincenses and myrrh.
vs.12 But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.
We have three sets of homily notes to choose from.
Please click on the one required.
1. Michel de Verteuil Lectio Divina Year C
2. Martin Tierney, sundaythoughts.com
3. Thomas O’Loughlin, Liturgical Resources for Advent and Christmas
1. Michel de Verteuil
The Year of Luke
The feast of the Epiphany (from the Greek word for manifestation) celebrates the manifestation of God at the incarnation, and all his other manifestations to us and to people who have touched our lives, in every age. Every moment of grace can be called “an epiphany”: a conversion, a new insight, a new stage of spiritual growth.
As with all liturgical feasts, the Epiphany is “wisdom teaching” on how to recognise epiphanies in our own lives and in the lives of those we are called to help, as parents, teachers, community leaders, spiritual guides, preachers, etc.
St Matthew’s story of the “manifestation” to the Wise Men must be read as a parallel to St Luke’s account of the one to the shepherds. The two “manifestation stories” are alike and different:
– alike since there is only one God and he has one way of manifesting himself;
– different since as individuals and as groups we are all in unique situations.
The following are points of likeness that we will recognise from our experience:
1. Both groups are “outsiders”:
– shepherds in those days were looked upon as a marginal group;
– the Wise Men came “from afar”.
A clear sign that we have experienced a true epiphany is the feeling that we have beenn brought in to a holy space from which we had felt excluded because of our sex, class, race, economic circumstances, status in the community.
2. They were invited to their epiphany by a sign from heaven:
– an angel in glory appeared to the shepherds;
– the Wise Men saw a star.
In every epiphany we have the sense that this is not of our doing. It comes not from “flesh and blood” but from “the Father in heaven”.
3. They rejoiced that the heavenly sign was fulfilled:
– the shepherds “glorified and praised God” because what they had “heard and seen” was
“exactly as they had been told”;
– the Wise Men were “filled with delight” at “the sight of the star”.
Moments of grace are always experiences of homecoming.
What is special about the Wise Men is the long journey they made to their epiphany. Their story invites us to celebrate our own (or other people’s) journey of grace. The text identifies its different stages, and we are free to remain with one stage or to re-live the entire journey
Verses 1 and 2 tell us of the journey from “the east” to Jerusalem. We remember a first searching which takes us some of the way, after which we get lost and have to resort to a religious centre, spiritual guide, religious community or place of pilgrimage.
– Verses 3 to 9 tell of the meeting between the Wise Men adn Herod – very dramatic and true to experience. We can read these verses from two points of view:
– the Wise Men are humble and open to learning from religious leaders even though these have bad motives;
– Herod is typical of those in positions of authority and privilege who become insecure at the possibility of new ideas (including religious insights).
– Verses 10 and 11 are the touching story of the final moment of grace. We can identify three aspects of the moment:
– the joy of discovery – they “fall on their knees”;
– the sense of homecoming – they feel capable of “opening their treasures”;
– the extraordinary simplicity of the epiphany – “a child with his mother”.
Popular devotion has given various interpretations to the “treasures”, but we might like to reflect on what they tell us about the givers: the Wise Men brought the gifts of their cultures. The important lesson for our time is that in the presence of Jesus all cultures ”open their treasures” to the universal church – surely the special “epiphany” for the church today.
– Verse 12 is very significant. Like all people who have had a deep experience of God, the Wise Men return to their ordinary lives but with a freedom they had not experienced before. Here is a further “wisdom teaching” therefore: the fruit of a true epiphany is that we are able to “return to our country by a different way”.
Lord, there comes a point in our lives when we finally discover
what we want to give our whole lives to:
* a cause like racial equality, community development, women’s rights;
* a spirituality which combines union with God and social involvement;
* the religious life or the priesthood;
* contemplative prayer.
We look back on the long journey that brought us to this point,
from the time we knew in some vague way that we wanted to change our ways
– like the wise men seeing a star as it rose and deciding to follow it.
Then, as it always seems to happen on a spiritual journey,
we lost sight of the star and drifted aimlessly for some years,
until we realized that the only sensible thing to do was to get help.
So we went to our religious leaders,
and though they were rather confused themselves,
they put us back on the right track and the old enthusiasm returned.
The last part of the journey went quickly:
suddenly we knew that we had found what we had been looking for,
and it was like coming home, so that we went into the house,
fell on our knees and opened our treasures.
Thank you, Lord, for guiding us every part of the way.
Lord, it is strange how we become attached to positions of privilege
– as parents or teachers;
– occupying a position in the Church;
– accepted as one of the better educated members of our little circle.
When people come forward who are from a different background,
or who are asking new questions,
we are pertubed, as Herod was when the wise men came to Jerusalem.
We reflect on what to say, and may even give them good advice,
but deep down our main concern is
that we should continue to feel secure where we are.
No wonder those whom we help do not come back to us
but return to their country by a different way.
Lord, for many centuries now the Church has been European.
We thank you that in our day people of other cultures are looking for Jesus
because they have seen a star out in the east.
Naturally, we are perturbed by all these foreigners,
and so is the whole of Jerusalem, for they will bring changes to the whole Church,
and we will lose our special status.
So, though we give them the right instructions,
we tell them that once they have discovered Jesus
they must come back and tell us exactly what they have found.
But you are guiding them, Lord, and when they come to Jesus
they will open the treasures of their own cultures.
Furthermore, you will reveal to them that there is no need to come back to us,
and they will make their own way home.
Lord, we sometimes think that we must spend plenty of money
to make Jesus more attractive, or that we must be very learned
so that our preaching of him can draw many to him.
But wise men are looking for an infant king,
and the Scriptures say that he will come from Bethlehem,
the least among the leaders of Judah,
because people are tired of great kings who dominate them.
But if they go into a simple house and see the child Jesus with his mother Mary,
even as they fall on their knees and do him homage
they will feel comfortable to open their treasures
and offer him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Lord, we look today for instant results and for the “quick fix” in all things,
so that we end up looking for instant spiritual growth as well.
But before we can see Jesus and fall on our knees and do him homage
we have to make a long journey from the east.
We have to follow a star, lose it and discover it again many times,
until finally it halts over the place where he is.
2. Martin Tierney,
This man was born to die
A fifteenth-century painting on the Epiphany illustrates others are born to live, Jesus was born to die.
A quite beautiful painting, attributed to a fifteenth-century Peruvian artist, Benedetto Bonfigli, presents the visit of the Magi in unusual circumstances. The painting on wood is entitled The Adoration of the Magi and Christ on the Cross. The infant Jesus is shown seated on a cushion on the Virgin’s lap and he assumes a position of authority as he accepts the gifts and homage of the Magi, who are shown as kings. The eldest of the three kings has taken off his crown and laid it at the feet of the Virgin and child as a gesture of submission. He holds the infant’s feet in his right hand, perhaps intending to kiss them with reverence and devotion. Acceptance of the Magi’s homage was understood as Christ’s prophetic acknowledgement Of his destiny to die on the cross. Bonfigli shows the crucified Christ in the middle distance among the hills, his head bowed and blood trickling from his wounds. The painting illustrates the point that Christ was born in order to die for humanity. The two episodes in the one painting illustrate the beginning and the end of the earthly life of Jesus.
It may seem to us extraordinary that those men should set out from the East to find a king, but the strange thing is that, just about the time Jesus was born, there was in the world a feeling of expectation of the coming of a king. The Jews had the belief that about that time one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth’. When Jesus Christ came, the world was in an eagerness of expectation. People were waiting for God and the desire for God was in their hearts. They had discovered that they could not build the golden age without God. It was to a waiting world that Jesus came; and, when he came, the ends of the earth were gathered at his cradle. It was the first sign and symbol of the world conquest of Christ.
The faithfulness of the Magi in following ‘their star’ and discerning that something more than a mere secular event was here is important. They set out, to where they didn’t know; to see what, they weren’t sure. They were willing to take the risk. They were willing to let go of reputation, security and home to follow the hunch that God was speaking to them and inviting them to come. When Jesus said ‘Come follow me’ to the disciples, their positive response was fraught with uncertainty. To follow Jesus is to be willing to walk the path of uncertainty without an insurance policy under one’s arm!
Herod’s fear was that his power might be challenged. The wisdom of the kings is hearing the voice of God speaking to them in their dreams. The strangers were accepted at the cave of Bethlehem – the first of many Gentiles who were to see, in Christ, a Saviour.
Liturgical Resources for Advent and Christmas
1. This feast cannot escape the links with the colourful exotic figures in the crib and their gifts. However, the task of the preacher is to draw attention to those aspects of the mystery of the incarnation that Matthew wished to highlight by introducing the story of the eastern visitors into his infancy narrative.
2. In a nutshell, the infancy narratives in both Luke and Matthew should be seen as ‘identity cards’: they tell us about who Jesus is, before we hear anything about what he did. But they approach the question of identity using the forms of historical narrative rather than abstract theological categories. Once this is stated then each of the episodes within these narratives, such as the visit of the magi, must be seen as expressing various aspects of the mysterious identity of the Anointed One. So what does this story tell us about Jesus and our faith in him?
3. That Jesus was the one for whom Israel waited over the generations of promise was established by Matthew at the very beginning of his gospel in the genealogy. However, there was also a strand of messianic faith that the Christ would not only bring salvation to Israel, but to all ‘the nations’, the whole of humanity. We find this faith in the oracle in Zechariah: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you'” (8:23). Now with the arrival of these magi, representatives of the nations, this prophecy is fulfilled and one more aspect of the nature of Jesus is revealed. Jesus is the one who is awaited by all nations.
4. The message of the Christians is that God has sent us his Son in Jesus Christ; today we rejoice that this mystery of Godwith-us is not something that is confined to a select few, but something that is for all humanity.
5. Matthew is careful to show that while God reveals the Anointed One’s coming by a star, it is also something that comes through the magi’s own deep searching. In this Matthew’s gospel is very different from Luke’s gospel where the angel tells the shepherds who has come and what it means and what to do, and then they do it. In Matthew we have professional searchers who realise that there is a greater
mystery beyond their present conditions and then set out to find it. They follow the evidence, they at first come to the wrong conclusion when they go to Herod’s court, and the truth only becomes clear when they find themselves in the presence of Jesus. The Christ, and his gospel, is thus seen as the fulfillment of human longings and of the human search for the truth – not as something imposed on humanity from outside that is destructive of human desires and creativity. Alas, we Christians often present the gospel in just such a negative way.
6. To celebrate this feast is to rejoice that God’s love has become available to us and that that love invites a response from us: to offer to Truth himself all our human talents.