After Easter and Pentecost the feast of the Epiphany is the oldest feast in the Church’s calendar, older even than the celebration of Christmas. The word epiphany is derived from the Greek word that means to manifest or to show oneself. The Incarnate Word of God has shown Himself to the world.
In the early Church the Epiphany celebrated three events: the visit of the Magi, the baptism of the Lord in the Jordan River, and the changing of the water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana. The Magi’s visit is seen as the manifestation of Christ as King of the world, with kings being the first gentiles to see him and worship him. The Baptism of the Lord, which we will celebrate next Sunday, was remembered because this was the first revelation of Our Lord at the beginning of his public ministry. The changing of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana marks the beginning of the miraculous transformation of the world by the Messiah.
Today the main focus in the Catholic celebration of the Epiphany is the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles, symbolized by the story of the Magi. These pagan astrologers went searching for the meaning of the strange star they saw in the night sky. They completed their journey by worshiping the one who had been predicted by the Jewish prophet Micah as being born in Bethlehem.
The alternative opening prayer for today’s Mass integrates the celebration of the Epiphany into our lives:
Father of Light, unchanging God, today you reveal to all peoples of faith the resplendent fact of the Word Made Flesh. Your light is strong. Your love is near. Draw us beyond the limits this world imposes to the life where your Spirit makes all life complete.
This prayer tells us that we must go beyond the limits of our world in order to find meaning in our lives, the life where God’s Spirit makes all life complete.
This is so different to the message of our society which tries to convince us that there are no limits in the world. Clever advertising tries to persuade us that can master the universe by buying all that we need. But we can’t buy lasting happiness. We are limited because the world is imperfect just as we are imperfect. St. Augustine saw all this clearly when after sampling just about everything the world had to offer said, Our hearts are made for you, O Lord and they shall not rest until they rest in you.
The wise men took a step of faith and were drawn to God. They gave him gifts to recognize who he is and the role he plays in the lives of all believers. Gold is the gift for a King. Jesus is the only one we can allow to direct and rule our lives. Frankincense is the sign of the priest. Jesus is the great high priest who bridges the gap between God and man. Myrrh was the perfume used to anoint the dead. Jesus is the sacrificial lamb whose death restored life.
When the wise men found the Lord they were overjoyed. There are three words in the original Greek text used to express this joy. They are translated as greatly, exceedingly, and vehemently joyful. In other words, they were beside themselves with happiness for now their own lives were complete because they now had a share in the life of Christ. King Herod would remain rich and powerful, but he would be spiritually impoverished for he oppressed the presence of the Lord. The chief priests and the scribes would remain in the Temple debating passages of the Law, but refusing to recognize the fulfilment of the Law in the newborn Messiah. But the wise men were totally transformed by the presence that makes all life complete.
Our lives can only be complete, meaningful and fulfilled, if we allow ourselves to be guided by God’s Holy Spirit. We can only be truly happy with the happiness that never ends if we share the life of the Spirit. And we can only receive the Spirit if we allow ourselves to be drawn by the Light of Christ, just as the Magi were drawn by the light of the star.
Epiphany means a manifestation or a showing of the presence of the Lord. May we be drawn by the presence of Christ in our world. May we also be manifestations of his presence for others. In all things may we recognize that only Christ can draw us beyond the limits this world imposes to the life where the Spirit makes all life complete.