The Feast of Epiphany is the beginning of saying “Yes” to God

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HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY

Readings:  Is. 60:1-6/ Ep.3:2-3,5-6

Psalm:  72:1-2,7-8,10-13

Gospel:  Mt. 2:1-12

 

During the time before calendars were the norm, the Feast of Epiphany was used to announce the Major Dates in the Church Year, particularly Lent, Easter, Pentecost and Christ the King.  In our time it has become a way to keep us reminded that even as we complete the first stage of Christ’s life, namely the Nativity; it is what he did for us that is important.  For it is through his life, death and resurrection that we are all healed.

The Advent and Christmas season is nothing but a microcosm of the whole of salvation history that can be used as a blueprint for the salvation of us, our families, our world and the entire universe.  When we first heard the story in Genesis on the beginnings of civilization, we are told that God created Man in His own image and, to find a suitable mate, he took from Man a rib in order to form Woman who will join with him to become one flesh again.[1]  A new creation that, through Holy Matrimony, also created by God.

We are also reminded that when we drift away from the security of God’s care, we stumble and make mistakes that can change us almost irrevocably.  When the Serpent tempted the Woman to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, it reflected the dangers one has in listening to others rather than to God.  Even when we think that what we hear is God’s plan for us, it can be in fact a ruse to follow our plans and desires rather than keeping our focus on God.  When the Woman gave the fruit to the Man, this became the first recorded moment of the fall of civilization (think about it).  Yet when all seemed lost, God assures them that, while their lives won’t be as serene as they had hoped, He will not display his total anger and walk away from them.[2]  God does not destroy the world because we have stopped listening to Him.  He only finds new ways for us to hear him in this new image of The Garden.

When we are presented with a choice whether or not to listen to God, the answer is always the same:  Yes.  When the Man and the Woman had abandoned God, they said “Yes” to the Serpent.  It would take that same “Yes” in order to bring the world back to God.  And it wasn’t in some formal declaration or a special event or even responded by some dignitary or Head of State, but it came through the voice of an innocent young girl.  When the Virgin Mary was greeted by the Angel Gabriel, it started the process to fulfill a promise God made to Adam, Eve and the Serpent that it would be He that would summon someone to redeem the world of their missteps. [3]

As we know, Mary had misgivings about being the person who would bring about the redemption of the world.  And it was not just her, but so did Joseph.  When he discovered that Mary was pregnant, scripture says that he had planned to divorce her quietly, in keeping with the traditions of his faith.  In this way both of their heads would be held high in the sight of their peers.  But when both listened to the Voice of God, in the persona of the Angel Gabriel, they both understood what was being asked of them.[4]  And they both said “Yes.” It makes no difference to God who we are or in what state our lives are in, when we say “Yes” to God, our fears and apprehensions fade away.

When God asks those to be his witnesses, they can come from any race, color creed or station in life. When the Virgin Mary came to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, both were pregnant, yet Elizabeth was closer to giving birth.  As Mary arrived, the child inside Elizabeth leapt with joy.  When that happened, Elizabeth said “Yes” because her child, John the Baptist, said “Yes.”[5]  This was the beginning of his ministry to point toward the one to who was to come after him.[6]  To do that, not only did John have to leave his standing as a member of the Priestly class, but went out into the desert “clothed with camels hair, with a leather belt around his waist, (eating) locusts and wild honey.”[7]

When Christ was born in that cave in Bethlehem, the first people who saw him were the Shepherds working in the field.  They were working at night when the Choir of Angels came to announce his arrival.  When the Shepherds arrived, they found the child wrapped up, lying in a manger.[8]  People who were living the simplest of lives and were doing their jobs the best they knew how.  And it was they who would find the greatest in the simplest of settings.  To them, saying “Yes” meant that having their Messiah appear to them validated that their lives had meaning, despite the opinion of those around them.

When Jesus came on the earth, he did not come for the lowly or the great, but for all of His Father’s creation.  And God uses everything at His disposal to help in that understanding.  John the Baptist had a visit from Mary while he and Jesus were still in their mothers’ wombs.  The Shepherds had angels sing to them.  And it was from a single star that sent Magi to present themselves to the newborn King of the Jews.  We don’t hear  the term “Magi” much in modern conversation.  In fact, we only hear the word during this time of the year, either in reading the O. Henry story “The Gift of the Magi” or in hearing the Gospel proclaimed today.  Just who were they?  We hear in the famous Christmas Carol written by Reverend John Henry Hopkins in 1857 as “Three Kings of Orient Are” but that is not entirely true.  Matthew uses the Greek word “Magos” meaning one of the educated, priestly classes from Persia.  The Persian word is “Magush” referring to all wise men, including astrologers, seers, dream interpreters and sorcerers.[9]

Even though they were considered worthy of honor and respect in their land, in the land of Judah, they would be considered guilty of blasphemy and could be condemned to death.[10]  Yet despite that risk, they saw a new star in the sky, indicating a king had been born.  They left their lands and travelled from the East in search of the child.  Thinking that a king would be born in a palace, they went to the home of King Herod, who was completely in the dark about this.  When his advisors told him where the child was to be, Herod sent the Magi to Bethlehem to find this Newborn King of the Jews.  The Magi left Herod and found the star and followed it to where the Holy Family lived. They saw the simplicity of their surroundings, yet were convinced that they had found the child.   They gave the family gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.  Then, in spite of the request of Herod to return to him with the Christ child’s location, they went home another way and kept his location quiet.[11]  This would provide helpful to Joseph because he was told in a dream to leave right away for Egypt, for the child’s life was in danger; for after they had left, Herod ordered the slaughter of all male children under two living in and around Bethlehem.  These were the Holy Innocents that we honor three days after Christmas. [12] The Magi came into a land that would have had them killed for their beliefs, yet they honored those very beliefs by saying “Yes” in welcoming this newborn King because of their presence.  For salvation comes to us from God, not from Man.

The word Epiphany means “Manifestation” or “Showing to.”  In Church speak, it means the moment that Jesus showed himself as the savior of the world, not just the Jews.  The Jews saw the Messiah as a great King who would destroy their enemies and restore Israel as a mighty kingdom.  But the Messiah that Jesus was (and that God had given to us) was one who would conquer our internal enemies, which are the sins that we commit that take us away from God.

Each one of the groups mentioned had their own version of Epiphany.  Mary and Joseph’s Epiphany was at the revelation of who their child will be by the angel Gabriel.  And they said “Yes.”  Elizabeth and John the Baptist had their Epiphany during the Visitation of the Virgin Mary.  They said “Yes” at their recognition.  And the Shepherds and Magi had their Epiphany in their finding of a child in the simplest of locals, who they saw as the savior of the world.  They said “Yes” in their reverence of the Christ child.

How often do we say “Yes” to Christ?  Every time we help someone who needs help, we say “Yes.”  Every time we thank God for what we have, we say “Yes.”  And every time we come to Mass, make our way to the altar and are asked “Body of Christ” and “Blood of Christ” we say “Yes” whenever we respond “Amen;” for that is what it means whenever we present ourselves to the Altar of God.  In fact, each time we participate in the Sacraments, we say “Yes.”  Otherwise, there would be no reason to do this at all and we are just wasting our time and the time of those around us.  We have to stop viewing coming to church as an obligation but rather as an invitation to renew our commitment to God, His son and His Church here on earth.  Our “Yes” is the commitment to embrace the moments of Christ’s salvation for us so we can bring others to embrace it as well in our actions as much as we do our words. Let our salvation begin.

AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH:  AND DWELT AMONG US.”

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

   Questions for Reflection:

  1. What have been your beliefs about the Magi? Were there only three?

                Do you know their names?  Do you think they believed their lives

                Were in danger?

 

  1. How did you celebrate the Christmas season? How much time did you

                give to friends? To Family? To God?

 

  1. How does this season give to you that will help you through the rest of

                Liturgical year?

[1] Gen. 1:27, 2:21-24.

[2] Gen. 3:1-19.

[3] Lk. 1:26-38.

[4] Mt. 1:18-25.

[5] Lk. 1:39-56.

[6] Jn. 1:19-28.

[7] Mk. 1:7.

[8] Lk. 2:8-20.

[9] Mcintosh, Kenneth. We Three Druids? in “The Winged Man:  The Good News According to Matthew.” (Vestal, New York:  Anamchara Books), 2017, 89-90.

[10] Lev. 20:27.  “A man or woman who is a medium or a wizard shall be put to death; they shall be stoned to death, their blood is upon them.”

[11] Mt. 2:1-12.

[12] Mt. 2:13-16.

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