Sunday Sermon for January 8, 2012, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, Year B

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

Two weeks ago we had the joy of celebrating the birth of our Savior into this world. Today we celebrate His manifestation, or epiphany, to the people. Traditionally there are three events celebrated on this day: the star and the wise men, our Lord’s baptism in the Jordan, and the first miracle in our Lord’s public life at the wedding feast at Cana. These are the three events which manifested our Lord’s divinity to the world.

In particular today we recall the three wise men who came from the east and were led by a star to the place where our Lord was to be found in Bethlehem. While it is difficult to say exactly when this visitation occurred, we can assume that it was shortly after the birth of our Lord. There are some who wonder about this because Herod ordered the slaughter of the Innocents based on the information he was given my the Magi and demanded the murder of all boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger.

Because of this there are some who suggest that this event may have taken place up to a couple of years after our Lord was born. However, I think it is more likely that the Magi noticed the stars coming into alignment well before the birth of the King. It certainly took some time for them to prepare for their journey and then it may have taken up to three months for them to cross the desert into the Holy Land.

At the same time, we know that our Lady and St. Joseph had a home in Nazareth and, it seems obvious from the events of Christmas, they did not have any acquaintances in Bethlehem because if they did, they would have stayed with them when they arrived at the little village. Therefore, since they came only to be registered in the enrollment, they had no place to stay, no friends in the vicinity and no work, it is probable that the Holy Family did not spend much time in Bethlehem. Therefore, the visit from the Magi would have occurred within a very short time after our Lord’s birth.

Regardless of the particulars, we have to consider the fact that it happened and how God made it happen. We hear in the first reading that Isaiah prophesied that such an event would occur, but St. Paul reveals the deeper meaning of the occasion. He tells us that this is the mystery that was not made known in earlier times, but was revealed only to the Apostles and prophets by the Holy Spirit. This mystery is the joining of the gentiles, the people of the nations, with the Jews to make one people of God.

Therefore these three men are the first of the pagans to recognize the fact that Jesus is not only a King, but that He is God. We are told in the Gospel reading that they prostrated themselves and did Him homage. The Greek word translated here as “homage” is most often translated as worshipped. While homage is not a bad translation, one might do homage to a king, but worship is reserved only to God.

The other element of this epiphany to consider is the star by which the three Magi were able to recognize that our Lord had been born and by which they were brought them to Him. Clearly, they were watching the stars. Perhaps they thought that there was something divine in the celestial bodies, perhaps they were seeking some kind of knowledge by looking at the stars. We do not know why the were keeping track of the heavenly movements, but we do know that God used these means to reveal to them a knowledge about the divine beyond what they could ever imagine.

We can surmise that these were good people, seeking God and His truth, but without full understanding. This is important because we probably all know people whose lives have been touched by the Lord when they were living apart from Him. Some of these people may have fallen away from Him, but many never knew Him at all. In some mysterious way, God used the events of their lives to give them insight into a truth that is infinite and beautiful. Their lives were changed forever by something completely unexpected.

What we need to understand is that like the Magi, we are not in charge of the times, places, people or circumstances in which someone may be touched and converted. What is necessary is that we pray for those who have wandered from the Lord and for those who have never known Him. Our prayers obtain grace and knock at the door of their hearts, but only God can manifest Himself to them, change their hearts and turn them to Himself.

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