January 4, 1998
The Epiphany of the Lord
What is the relevance for us today of this feast of the three Kings? Do the gifts they bring have a special significance beyond the fact that they are valuable?
Looking for Meaning
Today’s celebration of the Epiphany (meaning ‘manifestation’) reminds me of a kaleidoscope, an instrument allowing us to see a limitless variety of beautiful patterns. As we reflect on the Epiphamy and turn it over in our minds, many patterns of truth and meaning ‘manifest’ themselves to us.
First is the pattern of God’s love for all people. The Epipany story shows how Jesus manifested himself to the kings (magi, wise men) by means of a star. They followed that start until it led them to the Child in a manger. This event was foreshadowed by the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading:”Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come…. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance …. Caravans of camels shall fill you… All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord”. Christ came to bring salvation not only to the Jewish people, but to all the world, Jews and Gentiles. Paul proclaims in the second reading: “In Christ Jesus the Gentiles are no co-heirs with the Jews, members of the same body and shares of the promise through the preaching of the gospel.” The Epiphany is our feast, for it reminds us that we too find God in Jesus Christ.
The gifts brought by the kinds have traditionally been seen as revelations of Christ’s glory. Gold is a gift fit for a king; Jesus is the king of kings (Rv 19:16). Frankincense, with its sweet perfume, is offered by priests as they adore God; Jesus is our ‘great high priest who has passes through the heavens” (Heb 4:14) and who leads us in worship of God at each Eucharist. Myrrh is an aromatic resin, used in ancient times for embalming; Christ came to die for our sins, and he was laid in a tomb, swathed with burial cloths in a mixture of myrrh and aloes (jn 19:39-40). Epiphany enthrones Jesus as our king, priest, and savior who gave his life to free us from death.
The kings who followed star show us the importance of seeking Christ with all our hearts. Matthew portrays them as individuals who left everything to find the One revealed by a star. They put God first in their lives. Nothing was more important to them than finding the savior worthy of their gifts. If we want to be rewarded with the vision of Christ at the end of life’s journey, we must week Jesus wholeheartedly and give him our very best.
A kaleidoscope can reveal its hidden beauty only when light is present. The kings saw Christ with the light of faith. We too must gaze upon Christ with the same light. Faith allows us to see Christ under the appearance of bread and wine at Holy Mass. Faith uncovers Christ behind the Words of Scripture and in moments of prayer. Fiath recognizes Christ in everyone we see. Henry Van Dyke’s beautiful tale, ‘The Story of the Other Wise Man’, tells of Artaban, who sold all his possessions to purchase three precious jewels. His intent was to join the wise men and to present the jewels to the King revealed by the star. But Artaban, who kept stopping to help others, missed the caravan. he spent thirty years searching for the King, eventually giving away everything to help the poor and afflicted. he died in a mysterious earthquake which struck Jerusalem during the crucifixion of a man condemned as “King of the Jews”. To all appeareances, Artaban’s quest has failed. But death’s despair and darkness were transformed into the bright light of a vision revealing Jesus, who assured Artaban that he had indeed given his jewels to the King. Fr whatever Artaban had done for others, he had done for Jesus.
The light of faith allows us to see jesus today. May we find him, not only in the manger, but in the Eucharist, in the Scriptures, in prayer. May we see him in our family and our neighbours, in the poor and lonely, in the elderly and forgotten. May we, like those seekers of old, bring Christ the best we have to offer of our time, our attention, our talents, our mind, and our heart.
Fr. Oscar Lukefahr, C.M