The second Sunday after Christmas we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany of the Lord. This solemnity commemorates the visit of the magi to Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem sometime after Jesus’ birth. Why is this event so important to us Christians? In fact in most of the world, the true celebration of Christmas happens on this day, January 6, especially in the eastern Orthodox churches. It’s the “12th day of Christmas”. Let’s look at the Biblical text from St. Matthew:
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” … they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. – Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11
The word Epiphany is a Greek word that means “manifestation” or “striking appearance”. What made these Gentiles from the east travel so far to an insignificant little town and visit an infant? They somehow realized Jesus was no ordinary child. God entered into humanity by becoming one of us. The 2nd person of the Trinity, the eternal Son, humbled himself and became incarnate to show us the love of God to all of humanity. Whether the wise men understand this or not, they knew that this child was a king and worthy of adoration.
Notice how they follow a star of some significance. This light in the dark sky leads them to the Light of the World (John 8:12), the savior of humanity. These wise men were not Jews but yet they came to worship the King of the Jews. Already here is a foreshadowing of the Crucifixion where the title “King of the Jews” is mockingly placed on the Cross. In the darkness of these days, Christ shines forth in splendor in the hearts of those who believe. Notice the prophetic words of Isaiah:
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD. – Isaiah 60:1-6
Christ is revealed to all the world! Not just Jews but to all the nations. That’s why these kings came from the East – to show the universal (“catholic””) nature of God’s redeeming love. Indeed, Christ’s words after his Resurrection, his great commission, are to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). All nations. This is our mission. The Church exists for this mission.
The gifts they offer are linked to this manifestation, this mission. Gold is meant for a King. Frankincense is a perfume used in prayer. And myrrh used for anointing or funerals. These three gifts mirror the three-fold mission of Jesus: Priest, Prophet, King. As a Priest he offers his own body as a sacrifice to the Father for our redemption. As a Prophet, he is the Word of God who proclaims God’s truth and love. And he is the King of kings who manifests and invites us to enter the kingdom of God.
When we are baptized we also enter into this three-fold mission and make it our own. One of the ways the Church describes our baptism is by calling it “enlightenment” (see CCC 1216). We are given the Light of the World and we are made “sons in the light”.
Like the wise men from the East, let us kneel and pay Jesus homage and shine forth his light to the rest of the world. Christ be our light!