Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord: Journeying with the Magi
The Solemnity of the Epiphany is one of the oldest celebrations of the Church, probably even older than the celebration of Christmas. It emphasizes that in Jesus all people have been saved from the ravages of sin. The Old Testament makes it clear that God loves His people. The Epiphany makes it clear that all who reverence God are His people.
There are three events that the ancient liturgies referred to as epiphanies or manifestations of the Lord: the homage of the magi, the Baptism of the Lord, and the changing of water into wine at Cana. The Eastern and Orthodox Churches combine all three events in one celebration. The Western, the Roman Catholic Church, separates the events, focusing on the homage of the magi during the liturgical celebration of the Epiphany.
We call them magi, wise men, and kings. Which were they? They were probably all three. The term magi refers to Persian priests who could interpret dreams, They were also astronomers and astrologers, people who sought God's message to humans in the stars. They were probably Kings because their arrival in Jerusalem created quite a stir and earned them an audience with Herod. They may have been leaders of various groups of people or of areas of Persia. We really don't know. We do know that they were wise men. A wise man is attuned to the will of God and puts it into action. We always consider that there are three magi because they brought three gifts, one from each magi. The names Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar appeared somewhere in tradition.
They sought the newborn King of the Jews. Now this was Herod's official title, King of the Jews. So you could see why they thought Herod would know where the baby was. They assumed that he was a member of the King's family. We can also understand why Herod was upset. He recognized the magi's understanding of the stars and realized that there must be a threat to his position out there, somewhere. He was correct. There was someone out there who would be called the King of the Jews. In fact in this same gospel, the Gospel of Matthew, this is the title that was put over Jesus' head when evil crucified Him.
Regarding the star, the ancients believed that the birth or death of a great person was accompanied by astral phenomena. Perhaps the star was the confluence of the planets Jupiter and Saturn that modern day astronomers theorize occurred around that time. Perhaps the star was a comet. Perhaps it was a supernova. Or, perhaps, it was, as we often like to show, an angel guiding the magi. I, myself, prefer that last thought. The way I see it, if the Eternal Son of God, whom the universe could not contain, took on our human nature and become a baby for us, well, next to that, an angel becoming a guiding star is a mere sleight of hand.
Finally, the magi sought to do homage to the newborn king, and did so when they found him in the house in Bethlehem. Doing homage means to make an
action of submission before a person of great dignity and authority. A person would bow or prostrate himself. Homage is the proper attitude of humans before God. We continue this when we enter Church and genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament, or kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer and after receiving communion.
The magi sought the newborn King of the Jews to do him homage. We also seek the Lord. Why? Why do we seek him? We seek him because we want him to be our king. We want him to be the focus of our lives. We are not satisfied with just calling upon him when we need him in times of crisis and challenge. We don't just call out to Jesus when a loved one is hurting, or has died, or when we have strife in our family, or when we need help at school or at work. We call out to him every day to be the center of our lives. This takes courage and determination. It is easy for us to say, "Lord, I need you here in my life, but not there. I need you in the hospital, but not when I'm thinking about going to that questionable party." It is easy for us to ask the Lord to be with us as we care for a sick person, but not with us when we go with a person with whom we sin. We know that we can't just call upon God some of the time, and ignore him the rest of the time. We don't want a God who will leave us alone so we can join in with the sin of the world. We want a God who will help us conquer sin, conquer sin in the world and conquer sin in our lives.
And so, we also, like the magi, do him homage. We prostrate ourselves before God and we proclaim with our hearts, with our words, and with our lives, "You are the
Holy One. You are Our God."
Like the magi we have undertaken a journey. It is the journey of our lives. We journey to those places where the Lord is calling us to give witness to the world that He is the true King of the Universe. For our young people the places of their journey may include their schools, their colleges and those locations where they begin their adult lives. For our parents, the places of their journey may include each place their children need to go, each stage of their children's lives. For our retirees the places of their journey include doctors' offices and hospitals, and those places where we can reach out to others finishing the journeys of their lives. For each of us the places of our journeys include locations where people don't usually go to look for God, like a stable, or a homeless shelter, or a prison or a rehab program.
Our lives are a journey seeking the Presence of the Lord. We journey with the magi to those Bethlehems where we can find the Lord. May your journey and my journey be safe, beautiful and full of the love of God.