This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord which, in the Western tradition celebrates the adoration of the Magi who visit Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12). Like a light shining in the darkness, epiphany means the ‘manifestation’ of God.
More than ten years ago I moved from the pacific north-west to Kansas City. Visually one immediately notices the absence of one formerly ever present feature on the horizon, there are no mountains in Kansas City. Although there are some very old worn-down mountains in southern Missouri, there is nothing to compare with the soaring majesty of the Rocky or Cascade Mountains.
My seeming thirst for mountains led to an unexpected discovery in our new home. The mountains in Missouri are underground. Missouri is known as the “Cave State.” Our state is home to almost 6,400 caves. With my family, I have visited several of the largest and most spectacular of these caves, and even tromped into a few wild caves.
One of the most striking features of cave exploration is the need for light. The cave remains hidden and mysterious until you turn on a light. You can be in the presence of profound beauty and grandeur within a cave and it all disappears if you turn off the light.
The prophet Isaiah reminds us that our ability to see God’s glory is very much like shining a light into the darkness,
Arise! Shine, for your light has come, the glory of the LORD has dawned upon you. Though darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds, the peoples,
Upon you the LORD will dawn, and over you his glory will be seen. Nations shall walk by your light, kings by the radiance of your dawning (Isaiah 60 1-3).
The feast of Epiphany is about God shining his light on the nations so that all people will see the light of his glory. Our Gospel reading is the familiar Christmas story of the Magi from the east who follow a star to find the infant Jesus. The light from the star reveals the presence of the newly-born Jesus who is the King of the Jews.
The Magi are not Jews, but pagan ‘wise men’ or astrologers from the east (Matthew 2:1). Through their human wisdom and astrological observations of the natural world the Magi are drawn to Jerusalem to pay homage to the newly-born King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2) and to offer him royal gifts of ‘of gold, frankincense, and myrrh’ (Matthew 2:11).
Guided by the stars, the Magi come to Jerusalem expecting to find the infant king. To their surprise, King Herod and the ‘chief priests and the scribes’ (Matthew 2:4) are not aware of Jesus’ birth. In response to their inquiry, Herod and the scribes report that the Messiah must be born in ‘Bethlehem of Judea’ (Micah 5:1; Matthew 2:6). Perhaps Matthew wishes to imply that our observation of the created world can only bring us so far in our understanding. The Magi need revelation to complete their journey and discover the Messiah.
For many of the church fathers, the Magi are a symbol of Gentile faith. St. Peter Chrysologus notes,
Today the Magi gaze in deep wonder at what they see: heaven on earth, earth in heaven, man in God, God in man, one whom the whole universe cannot contain now enclosed in a tiny body. As they look, they believe and do not question, as their symbolic gifts bear witness: incense for God, gold for a king, myrrh for one who is to die.
So the Gentiles, who were the last, become the first: the faith of the Magi is the first fruits of the belief of the Gentiles” (Sermon 160).
The church has also seen the Magi as a symbol of faith which is hidden but now revealed in the light. One might compare the Magi’s journey to our experience of the Eucharist. Through the eyes of natural knowledge, we see only bread and wine with our eyes, but through the light of faith we see Christ.
The Council of Trent takes the worship of the Magi as a model for our adoration of the Eucharist. “For in this sacrament we believe that the same God is present whom the eternal Father brought into the world.… It is the same God whom the Magi fell down and worshipped” (Council of Trent, Decree on the Eucharist, chap. 5).
In the Prayer Over the Offerings for this Mass the priest prays,
Look with favor, Lord, we pray, on these gifts of your Church, in which are offered now not gold or frankincense or myrrh, but he who by them is proclaimed, sacrificed and received, Jesus Christ. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever. (Roman Missal: 3rd Edition).
The Apostle Paul describes such worship, “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1) The gold, frankincense, and myrrh of our own worship is our own spiritual participation in the Mass.
Let each one of us prepare to journey to the New Jerusalem. Let us seek out the light of Christ. Having found him in the Holy Eucharist let us offer him our homage and adoration. Lord, open the eyes of our hearts to truly see you hidden in the elements of bread and wine. Let us adore you as King!
Scott McKellar is associate director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute.
Daily Scripture Readings
For complete daily Scripture texts, click here. http://www.usccb.org
Monday, January 9, 2017
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Or Acts 10:34-38
Psalms 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10
Tuesday, January 10
Psalms 8:2ab & 5, 6-7, 8-9
Wednesday, January 11
Psalms 105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9
Thursday, January 12
Psalms 95:6-7c, 8-9, 10-11
Friday, January 13
Hebrews 4:1-5, 11
Psalms 78:3 & 4bc, 6c-7, 8
Saturday, January 14
Psalms 19:8, 9, 10, 15
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday, January 15
Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
Psalms 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
Monday, January 16
Psalms 110:1, 2, 3, 4
Tuesday, January 17
Psalms 111:1-2, 4-5, 9 & 10c
Wednesday, January 18
Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17
Psalms 110:1, 2, 3, 4
Thursday, January 19
Psalms 40:7-8a, 8b-9, 10, 17
Friday, January 20
Psalms 85:8 & 10, 11-12, 13-14
Saturday, January 21
Hebrews 9:2-3, 11-14
Psalms 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday, January 22
Psalms 27:1, 4, 13-14
1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
Matthew 4:12-23 or
The full text of the Scripture readings for this week and next week can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/
Click on the “Daily Readings” tab on the right hand side of the page.