The Epiphany of the Lord
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Sunday, January 8, 2012
The Epiphany of the Lord
Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” Matthew 12:2
The Gospels are filled with people looking for Jesus. The Magi of Epiphany are no exception. They are not the first. The shepherds are, but the Magi come from afar, led by a star.
We all know that on our Christmas trees we place highly symbolic ornaments but we save the most important for the top of the tree. When I was growing up, a lighted star was always placed at the very top of the Christmas tree in our home. That was perhaps my first introduction to the star of Bethlehem that led the Magi to their destination. The imagery of a star is very rich.
In the ancient world, we must remember that the Jews were surrounded by pagan nations. Hardly anyone, except the Jewish people, was monotheistic, believing in one God alone. The pagans believed in a multiplicity of gods, and these gods were at least manifested, if not identified, with the natural world. The sun was a god. The moon could be a god. And certainly for some stars were gods.
In the event of the Magi, the Gospel is teaching us an important lesson. Even a celestial body, something that some believe is a god, points the way to the real king of the universe. That the Magi bring some of the most expensive gifts that anyone could offer in the ancient world—gold, frankincense and myrrh—proves that they recognize the prominence of Christ, and not just the prominence but his dominion, because they are gifts fit for a king.
What have we discovered during this Christmas season? Have we encountered Jesus Christ? At the beginning of our liturgical journey to Christmas, I suggested that this holy season offered us the opportunity to renew our faith in Jesus Christ. He is Son of God, Son of Mary, and the Word of God made flesh. Belief in this Incarnation lies at the very heart of our Christian faith.
As Advent started, I also mentioned that the Church re-introduces Jesus Christ to us. We need introductions. We never know Him well enough. Therefore, to know Him better we need someone to introduce us. St. John the Baptist appears introducing the Messiah. The angel Gabriel appears, not only to Mary, but also for our benefit. We need to hear Gabriel’s message too. “[T]he child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Finally, Mary introduces us to her son. Following the Annunciation and the Visitation in the Gospel of St. Luke, she says nothing more, except for an appropriate admonition at the Wedding of Cana in the Gospel of St. John—“Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). Hers is a quiet introduction, once the birth takes place. As a mother holding an infant, she does not have to say anything. When she spoke “yes” to Gabriel, she said all that needed to be said.
All of these—St. John the Baptist, Mary, the shepherds, the Magi—are people of faith. They have left behind everything and embraced Christ in faith. Many more will do the same throughout the Gospels. But what about us?
Faith requires assent. When a messenger introduces someone to us, we must lay aside skepticism and accept the message. In our modern world this becomes more and more difficult. As we become enamored with material things and when they disillusion us, cynicism and skepticism can easily result. In a world filled with so much financial and economic uncertainty, it is not surprising that we would become cynical and shut-out the message. In a world that is so violent and shackled to every imaginable addiction, we can quickly become hardened to any message.
The message of Jesus Christ is essentially a message of freedom. It is also free of charge. It comes with the most excellent of endorsements. It requires nothing of us but love. It contradicts everything that the world represents. It places in opposition the world of Herod—troubled, grasping, and jealous—with the world of the Magi—self-sacrificing, generous, and faith filled. When the world preaches ambition, Christ offers humility. When it speaks of war, Christ gives peace. When it promotes selfishness, Christ teaches the denial of self.
As Christmas season ends, I pray that you have discovered something truly beautiful about your faith, that you have come even closer to our Lord in personal relationship with Him. Perhaps with St. Paul we can say, “[T]he mystery was made known to me by revelation” (Ephesians 3:3), the mystery of a virgin birth, the mystery hidden in kingly gifts, the mystery of a guiding star.