Jan 6, 2008

Homily for the FEAST OF EPIPHANY - January 6, 2008. Cronulla

Readings: Is. 60:1-6; Eph.3: 2-6; Mt. 2: 1-12

My dear friends today we have left our homes and we have come together to visit Christ in Bethlehem a second time. On Christmas day we visited Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus with the shepherds. But today, a few days after Christ’s birth, we make a second visit to the new-born Jesus, this time with the Magi, the Wise Men.

Just over a week ago we celebrated Christmas, and we celebrated the coming of Christ to the Jewish people, symbolised in the coming of the shepherds. Today, we celebrate the coming of Christ to all the people of the world symbolised through the Wise Men.

The word “Epiphany”, which means appearance or manifestation, marks Jesus’ first appearance to the Gentiles. “Epiphany” refers to God’s self-revelation as well as the revelation of Jesus as God’s Son. The Feast predates the celebration of Christmas, having originated in the East in the late 2nd century. The feast commemorates the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the Western Church.

The 6th century Italian tradition says that there were three magi - Caspar, Beltassar, and Melchior, is based on the fact that three gifts are mentioned in Matthew’s gospel: gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Orthodox Church holds that the Magi consisted of twelve kings, corresponding in number to the twelve tribes of Israel.

Commentary on the Torah by Jewish rabbis suggested that a star appeared in the sky at the birth of Abraham, Isaac and Moses. Likewise, in the Book of Numbers, the prophet Balaam speaks of “a star that shall come out of Jacob.” Stars were believed to be signs from God, announcing important events. Thus, the brightness of the light to which kings were drawn became the star in Matthew.

The wise men were guided and directed by the light of the stars. Just over 2000 years ago a group of magi, astronomers, but also perhaps they were kings, merchants, politicians, farmers, intellectuals and the list goes on, but these people noticed an unusual occurrence in God’s creation.

What we do know is that they noticed that a catastrophic event was about to occur and that creation was bearing witness to it.

They left their home lands, presumably with their advisors, their friends, their families, their livestock, their wealth and most likely anyone who was interested in taking the journey of their life.

The wise men would not have only been 3 men, but perhaps thousands of people, men, women, children, animals, a huge caravan full of colour and life. The magi do not only represent three men who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They represent all people, who give the greatest gift possible to God, the gift of themselves.

Gold, frankincense and myrrh may be thought of as prophesying Jesus’ future, but also telling us about who Jesus actually is. Gold was a gift for kings; frankincense (an ancient air purifier and perfume) was offered to God in temple worship; and myrrh was used by the High Priest as an anointing oil and to prepare bodies for burial. These gifts were not only expensive but were portable.

The Epiphany can be looked on as a symbol for our pilgrimage through life to Christ. The feast invites us to see ourselves as images of the Magi, a people on a journey to Christ. The Magi are a prefigurement of the Church and of the journey towards eternal life. The Gift of Themselves is the greatest gift possible. The gift of ourselves is the greatest gift we are able to give to Christ.

Today’s Gospel tells us the story of the magi's encounter with the evil King Herod. This encounter symbolizes three reactions to Jesus’ birth: hatred, indifference, and adoration. King Herod considered Jesus as a threat to his kingship. The Scribes, Pharisees and the Jewish priests knew that there were nearly 500 prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the promised Messiah, but they were more interested in their own selfish gains than in discovering and accepting the Messiah.

Then there were those who adored Jesus and offered Him gifts: This group was composed of the shepherds and the Magi. The shepherds offered the only gifts they had: love, tears of joy, and probably woollen clothes and milk from their sheep. The Magi offered gold, in recognition of Jesus as the king; frankincense, in acknowledgment that he was God, and myrrh as a symbol of his human nature.

Let us make sure that we belong with the shepherds and the Magi. Let us worship Jesus every day with the gold of our love, the myrrh of our humility and the frankincense of our adoration. Let us offer our very selves, promising God that we will use His blessings by doing good to our fellow men.

Let us choose a better path for our lives. Just as the Magi chose another route to return to their home, let us choose a better way of life, abstaining from proud and impure thoughts, evil habits and selfish behaviour.

Let us become the Star, leading others to Jesus, as the star led the Magi to Him. We can remove the darkness of evil around us by being at least like candles, radiating Jesus’ love by selfless service, unconditional forgiveness and compassionate care.

Like the Magi, let us offer Jesus our gifts on this feast of Epiphany.

The first gift might be friendship with God. After all, the whole point of Christmas is that God’s son became one of us, to redeem us and call us friends. God wants our friendship in the form of wholehearted love and devotion.

A second gift might be friendship with others. This kind of friendship can be costly. The price it exacts is vulnerability and openness to others. The good news, however, is that in offering friendship to others; we will receive back many blessings.

A third gift might be the gift of reconciliation. This is the gift of repairing damaged relationships. It requires honesty, humility, understanding, forgiveness and patience.

The fourth gift of this season is the gift of peace: seeking God’s peace in our own lives through prayer, sacramental life and daily meditation on the Word of God.

What can I give him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I could give a Lamb.

If I were a wise man, I could do my part.

What can I give Him? I can give Him my heart.

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