Epiphany of the Lord: the Manifestation of Christ to the World
Sunday Homily for January 4, 2009
Feast of the Epiphany (EpiphanyB)
By Fr. Alex McAllister SDS
We celebrate today the Epiphany of the Lord —by which we mean the Manifestation of Christ to the World.
We commemorate the arrival of the Three Wise Men at the stable in Bethlehem. It is in some way curious that Christ does not go to them or reveal himself to them at some later stage when he is more able. No, they find their way to Christ unaided by him when he is but a tiny child.
Matthew in his Gospel presents us with two contrasting approaches. God reveals himself through the Scriptures and in the words of the Prophets to the People of Israel but he also reveals himself through natural phenomena such as the star the wise men followed.
Ironically God’s direct revelation is ignored by those who should know better. Yet his very indirect and almost tenuous revelation through the star is noticed by the wise men who undertake a laborious journey to find the Christ Child.
These things are not confined to ancient times but are just as relevant to us today.
It is sad how many people who know the scriptures, and who have had the Good News explained to them in great detail throughout their childhood, manage to drift away from their faith.
This is a problem we face every day in the church and in our families. God gives us the great privilege of being brought up in a practicing family and reveals himself to us in all kinds of ways and yet this is not sufficient to bring some of us to faith.
And on the opposite hand we see these Wise Men who go to extraordinary lengths to find faith and give due homage to the Christ Child.
I have often conducted classes for those who wish to become members of the Church and have sat in amazement as I listened to wonderful stories of how people have been gradually but irrevocably drawn to Christ over a period of many years.
They have frequently undergone all kinds of difficulties and overcome extraordinary obstacles to finally get to the point where they can profess their faith in God and find their true home in the Church.
Each one of us has a story of conversion. For some it might be simple and straightforward, for others it might be very convoluted. But all our stories have at their foundation the simple fact that God is calling us to faith in him.
We come by different routes, some of them very curious, some of them very painful. But we are all being led through life on a great pilgrimage of faith sometimes despite ourselves. And the destination of that pilgrimage in not the pew in which you are sitting now but that greater seat that awaits us all around the banquet table of heaven.
This Feast of the Epiphany with its marvellous story of Wise Men led first to Jerusalem and then on to Bethlehem and their avoidance of the trap laid by King Herod is not something just for the history books.
Nor is it merely a fable to demonstrate Christ’s openness to the Gentiles from the first moment of his presence in the world.
No, it is also a challenge to all of us. It underlines just how important it is that Christ came to reveal the Good News of the Kingdom to absolutely everyone in the world. And we who are his disciples are commissioned to spread his Good News to the ends of the earth.
That does not mean that we need to rush out and buy a ticket for some poor benighted place no one has ever heard of in order to preach the Gospel to its natives, though this should never be excluded.
There are plenty of people living right around us who have never heard the Gospel, or while they might have heard it never really understood what it meant.
Often enough, we don’t even have to step outside our own front door to complete this mission. Our task might even be restricted to within our own families.
The symbolism of the star should not be overlooked as we celebrate this feast in which it plays such a significant role. The star represents the Light of Christ which drew the Wise Men to the truth.
Christ is indeed the Light of the World since he came into our world to bring light into darkness, knowledge to dispel ignorance, hope to overcome despair. He is indeed the one who all sincere searchers are seeking.
In Ancient Times this Feast of the Epiphany was considered more important than Christmas and indeed still in the East it is kept as a higher ranking feast. It achieved this status early in the history of the Church surely because the many converts from paganism saw in the story of the wise men their own story.
These wise men were guided by a star; they were led by God to the stable in Bethlehem where they offered the Christ Child their gifts and paid him homage.
The early converts to Christianity, like any convert today, realised that like those Wise Men they too were guided by God and led on a journey of faith and brought to belief in Christ. When they finally encounter him they place all they have at his disposal and worship him as the Son of God and the one true Saviour of the World.
They may not be rich like those Magi, but they know that they have come to the knowledge of the greatest treasure anyone could possess—belief in Jesus Christ.