The Epiphany of the Lord

9.01. 2023 | Homily


Readings for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord are available HERE

These weeks are full of special celebrations in Christian communities. We celebrated Christmas two weeks ago, on 25 December, but Catholics in the East and the Orthodox Churches celebrated Christmas yesterday. The feast we celebrate today is the Epiphany of the Lord, and tomorrow, if you attend Mass, you can join in the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. All of these feasts are about the way God revealed that Jesus is God made man, Emmanuel, God-with-us, the Light of the Nations. These days there are three feasts, but originally there was only one, the Epiphany of the Lord. The Church offers us three feasts to emphasise who Jesus really is, and to ask us to believe that more and more every year. Let us pray for ourselves, for each other and for or families, that we may all grow stronger in our faith in Jesus Christ.

The Epiphany is traditionally the celebration of the arrival of three wise men from the East, possibly from Persia or maybe even further away. They may have been priests, but they were certainly astrologers, men who watched the stars and the planets, looking for signs of God’s activity. Over the centuries, there have been many stories about them following a star, which guided them to Bethlehem. They believed that God used this star to help them find something or someone. They did not come empty-handed. Each of them had a gift for Jesus, and each gift shows us who they thought Jesus is. Gold is a sign that the wise men thought that Jesus is a king. On the last Sunday of the Church year, we celebrate our belief that Jesus Christ is the King of the Universe. Incense is a sign that the wise men thought that Jesus is God, because incense is used in temples and churches to remind us that God is there. Myrrh is a sign that the wise men thought Jesus is human, because it is something used to prepare dead bodies for their burial. So what the wise men gave Jesus are signs that they believed He is a king, He is God and, at the same time, He is human. They fell to their knees and worshipped Him as their Lord and their King.

In most countries, Catholics and other Christians celebrated the Epiphany of the Lord two days ago, on 6ᵗʰ January. Because it is such an important feast, Pope Francis prayed the Angelus with thousands of people assembled in Saint Peter’s Square in Rome.

Before the Angelus, the Pope always offers the people who have gathered in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica a short reflection. On Friday, he made this very helpful suggestion. He agreed that most people know that the three wise men each brought Jesus a gift. But he thinks that the wise men received three gifts from God, as well. He was using his imagination in a way that Jesuits are trained to do.

The first gift the wise men received is that they were called by God. They were not reading the Scriptures, but studying the stars. They allowed themselves to be guided by a star towards the unknown. “Wise and educated, they were fascinated more by what they did not know than by what they already knew. They were open to what they did not know”. Pope Francis thinks this is an important gift for us, too, to be able to step out of the world which is familiar to us and to allow ourselves to be guided by God to come closer to Him.

The second gift the wise men received is the ability to discern what is really happening. When they realised they were looking for a king, they went to ask advice from King Herod, but he “is a man hungry for power and wants to use them [the three wise men] to eliminate the baby Messiah”. They were not stupid, so they accepted the warning they received in a dream, and went back home by a different route. Accepting God’s messages helped them to discern what the best form of action was. Pope Francis said it is important for us to ask God for this grace: “Lord, grant us the ability to discern what is good from what is evil, what is better from what is not better”.

The third gift the wise men received was the surprise. Gradually, along their journey, they had come to understand more and more about the person they were going to meet. What they eventually found was nothing astonishing. The shepherds saw angels in the sky, but the wise men did not. They may have been expecting a powerful Messiah, but they found God in poverty and simplicity, when they met a baby and his mother. Because they were ready to let God surprise them, they did not think they had come to the wrong place; they somehow knew how to recognise Him – “in his littleness, they recognise God’s face. Humanly, we are all inclined to seek greatness, but it is a gift to know… how to find greatness in the littleness that God loves. For the Lord is encountered like this: in humility, in silence, in adoration, in the smallest and in the poor”.

Fr. Peter Fleetwood


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