Sunday Sermon for January 3, 2021, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, Year B
Readings: Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12
As we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord, we need to reflect on the way our Lord chooses to manifest Himself to us. We see several different possibilities in the readings today. The most obvious of these, and the reason for the Feast Day, is the star that guided the Magi to the Lord. Needless to say, this is an extraordinary manifestation and, perhaps, one we might think should have been obvious to everyone. Perhaps it would have been obvious to anyone who was watching, but I have to wonder how many of us would notice if a star in the sky was brighter than usual? Even more, if we did notice, how many of us would be able to understand that there is a spiritual significance to this star?
The Magi understood these things because they were accustomed to looking at the stars and attributing meaning to them. Most people do not do this, consequently, most people, even if they had noticed the star, would have had no inkling that it meant something beyond the fact that there was a bright star in the sky. Clearly, God intend this manifestation to a very small group of people. Of those, we know of only three who responded to this epiphany.
This brings us to the second manifestation in the readings today: the Magi come to Jerusalem seeking the newborn King of the Jews. Herod believes the Magi when they explain the situation to him, but he is not moved to worship God or seek the truth. Yes, he called the chief priests and the scribes, but it was to learn where his perceived rival was to be found so he could kill the Child. Nonetheless, this was another manifestation to both the political and religious leaders of the day. Herod was anxious about the manifestation and the priests ignored it. They may not have seen the star, but they heard from those who did and what the perceived meaning of the star was, but they paid the Magi no attention.
For Herod, the Magi could do his dirty work for him by finding the Child and reporting back. For the priests, it was probably considered sorcery or witchcraft, so it is understandable why they would have rejected it. But this manifestation was more to the Gentiles than it was to the Jews. Consequently, the Gentiles responded positively while the Jews scoffed.
Another manifestation has to do the with fulfillment of the prophecies in Scripture. The Jewish leaders certainly knew the Scriptures; one might expect that they would have been able to see the fulfillment of the prophecy from Isaiah that we have in the first reading. Isaiah foretold the arrival of caravans of camels and dromedaries bearing gold and frankincense. Numbers 24 records Balaam’s prophecy of a star that would rise out of Jacob (Israel) that would signify a King. The priests and scribes knew where the Messiah was to be born, as we hear in the Gospel reading today, but they either rejected the possibility of the Messiah being born in their day or they refused to believe because the message came from pagans.
A fourth kind of manifestation is presented to us by St. Paul in the second reading. He says the mystery was made known to him by revelation. The mystery of which St. Paul speaks is the uniting of the Gentiles with the Jews in the Mystical Body of Christ. Similar revelations were given to the Prophets so the hearts and minds of the people could be prepared to welcome the Messiah. The Apostles and Evangelists were also given revelations so they could write the inspired Word of God. Indeed, even today there are people to whom God chooses to reveal what He is doing in the world. These private revelations do not need to be believed by the Faithful, but those that are true are given in fulfillment of God’s promise to Amos that He would do nothing in the world without first telling His servants, the prophets.
Finally, there is the manifestation that is most common: the hearing of the Word. St. Paul reminds the Ephesians that they had heard of the stewardship of God’s grace given to St. Paul. We have the entire revelation given to us in the Sacred Scriptures and we have the teachings of the Church. We have heard the truth, but has it been manifested to us yet? In other words, has the light bulb gone on yet in our minds and, more importantly, in our hearts? When the objective truths become subjective for us, this will be our own personal Epiphany. There will not be a star or Magi, but a manifestation infinitely greater, union with the One the Magi found and worshipped: the Lord Jesus Christ!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.