Sunday Sermon for January 7, 2024, the Solemnity of Epiphany, Year B

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

In the first reading, we hear about something quite extraordinary: darkness covers the earth and thick clouds cover the peoples, but upon Jerusalem the Lord shines and over Jerusalem His glory.  One might think back to the time of the plagues in Egypt when darkness covered the entire land of Egypt, but where the Israelites were, the sun’s light shone as it normally would.  However, in this case, things are very different.

The first situation showed the difference between the Israelites and the Egyptians, that is, between God’s chosen people and those who were oppressing them.  But as St. Paul tells us in the second reading, in the Lord Jesus, the Gentiles are now coheirs with the Jews, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise.  So, there is no longer this distinction between those who are part of the chosen people and those who are not.  Rather, every person has the opportunity to be a chosen son or daughter of God.

No, the distinction between Jerusalem being in the light of the Lord while the rest of the world is steeped in darkness has to do with truth and, ultimately, the Truth.  If we choose to reject the Lord and His teachings, we have chosen darkness over light.  St. Paul tells us that we have been rescued from the kingdom of darkness and we have been brought into the Kingdom of God’s Son.  The change this causes in us is so radical that St. Paul also says we were once darkness, but now we are light in the Lord.

This light, Who is the Lord, came to the chosen people.  While caravans and camels arrived in Jerusalem seeking this light, He was hidden away in Bethlehem.  The chief priests and the scribes knew where the Messiah was to be found, and even though they had been given the fullness of the truth as it had been revealed up to that time, it is clear that they chose to ignore it. 

Thankfully, the Magi did not ignore it.  The light from the star they saw was merely an expression of a far greater light that the magi sought.  They understood this star represented a king, and since it was seen in the constellation Leo, which they believed represented Judah, the Magi came to Jerusalem in search of this king.  The events which follow have the greatest significance for us.  We have heard the story so many times that we may not have considered some of the details contained within it.

The Magi arrived, looking for an earthly king and, therefore, sought him in the royal palace.  It is interesting that these men had no doubt in their minds that a king had been born.  There was no royal announcement, but they were so convinced by the sign they had seen that they made this difficult journey to honor a king who is so compelling and momentous that even the heavens proclaimed His glory. 

It is also interesting that Herod understood the request of the Magi about this newborn King referred to the Messiah.  This is the reason he called the chief priests and the scribes to tell him where the Messiah was to be born.  When the Magi learned that our Lord was to be born in Bethlehem, they did not hesitate to go.  Nothing in the Gospel suggests confusion or doubt on their part.  They had come with one purpose in mind and nothing would dissuade them from their goal.

When they found the Child with His Mother, we are told they prostrated themselves and worshipped Him.  What is significant here is that they did not find a baby in a royal palace clothed with all the fancy garments and trappings of royalty, nor did they find parents who looked or dressed like a king or queen.  Born in a barn and laid in a manger, the Magi found the Royal Child with His Queen Mother dressed in the clothing of the poor and living in impoverished circumstances.

More than this, the Magi perceived something—or someone—who infinitely exceeded their expectations.   This Child was not merely an earthly king, He was God.  They had brought gifts to present to the new king, but to prostrate themselves and worship Him required a light that shattered the darkness of their minds.  The light of truth regarding this Child was infused into their minds.  They did not see the external signs of glory or divinity, but they were given interior light into a mystery they could not fully understand.  But they understood enough and became an example for all of us to believe what we cannot grasp with our senses, to accept Jesus as our Lord, our King, and our God, and to worship Him with Love beyond all telling!

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