Sunday Sermon for January 5, 2020, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, Year A

Readings: Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12

In the second reading today St. Paul states: “the mystery was made known to me by revelation.”  The mystery of which he speaks is that “the Gentiles are now coheirs with the Jews, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.”  This revelation came to St. Paul some time after our Lord’s death and resurrection, but God had been preparing the both the Jews and the Gentiles for centuries prior to the clarity given to St. Paul.

The Jewish people knew themselves to be the Chosen People.  As such, they also knew God had revealed to them through Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets, the fullness of truth that had been revealed at that time.  While they had not ruled out the possibility of any further revelation, they did not live with any expectation that anything new would be revealed.  They awaited the Messiah, of course, but assumed He would uphold everything God had revealed to the Jews and bring the Gentiles to conversion so they would worship as the Jews worshiped God.

Given their understanding, this only makes sense.  Everything was seen through the filter of their faith and the assumptions that followed from that faith.  So, when Isaiah spoke about the glory of the Lord appearing over Jerusalem and the joy they will behold of the radiance of what God is doing, the riches of the nations being poured into Jerusalem, and camels and dromedaries coming from pagan lands, they would naturally assume this to mean the Gentiles would become Jews.

Because we have the advantage of having the Gospels and two thousand years of the teachings of the Church and her Saints, we know the situation is not what someone looking through a Jewish lens prior to their fulfillment would have thought.  Consider that fifteen hundred years prior to our Lord’s coming God gave to a pagan prophet, Balaam, the revelation of a star (Num 24).  This would have been interpreted to mean a king to be raised up for Israel.  The passage was considered Messianic, but there was no way anyone would have understood that a star would actually rise in the constellation Leo, which astrologers assigned to represent Judah. 

When this star arose, really a conjunction of three stars that would look like one huge, bright star to the naked eye, the Magi understood this meant a King was born in Judah.  As Christians, we would completely reject astrology and seeking signs in the stars.  However, because this is how pagans sought knowledge, God used the star to guide them from their superstition to the Truth.  So, rather than the mention of a star being a symbolic representation of a king, a star literally represented the King.

The Magi must have either been Jews whose families never returned to Israel after the diaspora or they were scholars of sorts who were familiar with the Hebrew writings and prophecies.  I say this because my assumption is they did not set out and go from country to country every time a king was born somewhere.  Instead, they recognized through the sign of the star that this King was different from any earthly kings.  They may not have fully understood what the star represented, but they undertook a arduous journey to find this newborn King.

Regardless of their ideas and intentions as they left their countries and made their way to Jerusalem, when they found the Child they understood something that could not be seen with human eyes.  We are told that they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so we see the Lord working in their lives.  For this reason, we can also say God had to reveal the mystery of the Incarnation to these men because they prostrated themselves before the Lord and worshiped Him.  Our translation says they did Him homage, but the Greek word used here, prosekunesan, literally means, “they worshiped.”  Homage can be given to an earthly king, but worship is given only to God. 

What was revealed to these men was understood only decades later by the Apostles and the Church.  Each of us, to whom this same mystery has been revealed, must look into our own hearts and consider our disposition.  How important is it to us to be with Jesus?  Do we truly worship our Lord or do we just go through the motions?  Most of us come from Gentile ancestry, so we were not part of he covenant or the People of God.  There was no hope.  Now we have been made one body in a New Covenant; we have been saved.  This is the star that beckons us.  It shines in our hearts.  Are we willing to search interiorly to find Him?  Will we prostrate ourselves before Him and worship Him? 

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