03. 01. 2009 Epiphany of the Lord
Introduction: During these past several weeks of Advent we have been conscious of Christ’s light penetrating our darkened world. We have celebrated God’s grace manifested through his Son, Jesus, and gloried in this heavenly visitation. In the book On Being Human, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen explains, “But Christmas is not a man making himself a god, but God becoming a man, without ever ceasing to be God. In the first instance, there is exaltation or self-inflation by which man makes himself what he is not. In the second instance, there is humiliation, for God takes on the form and habit of man.” What a glorious truth!
Penitential rite: Let us recognize our sins and ask God for pardon and forgiveness
May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.
Isaiah 60, 1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3, 2-3.5-6; Matthew 2, 1-12
The greatest gift to the King of Kings is the gift of a life of faithful love and service.
There’s a story called “The Other Wise Man’’ by Henry van Dyke.
It’s about a fourth person who is supposed to accompany the other three wise men on their journey to search for the newborn King. The name of the person is Artaban. As Artaban prepares for the journey, he takes with him a bag of precious stones to give to the baby King. On his way to join the other three wise men, Artaban stops to help a poor person. The delay is just enough to make him miss his rendezvous with the others.
Artaban never does catch up with them. He constantly runs into people who need help. And he always stops to help them. Eventually, Artaban gives away all his precious stones. As the story ends, Artaban is old and poor. He never realized his dream to meet the King of Kings and place at his feet his gift of precious stones.
The story of “The Other Wise Man’’ could end here. And if it did, it would be a sad story. It would be the story of a man who never realized his one big dream. But the story doesn’t end here.
One day Artaban is in Jerusalem. The city is buzzing with excitement. Authorities are about to execute a criminal. When Artaban sees the criminal, his heart skips a beat. Something tells him this is the King of Kings for whom he has been searching all his life. Artaban is heartbroken at what he sees. He is even more heartbroken when he sees he can do nothing to help the King. Then something remarkable happens. Artaban hears the King’s voice say to him:
“Don’t be brokenhearted, Artaban.
You’ve been helping me all your life.
When I was hungry, you gave me food.
When I was thirsty, you gave me drink.
When I was naked, you clothed me.
When I was a stranger, you took me in.’’
The story of Artaban is the story of many people in our world. Like Artaban, they begin life with the dream of doing something great. But as time passes, circumstances beyond their control interfere with their dream. Eventually it disappears.
The Feast of the Epiphany reminds us that we all have a gift we can give to the King of Kings. And the story of “The Other Wise Man’’ reminds us that our gift is far more precious than those of the other three wise men. Our gift is not a one-time gift of gold, frankincense, or myrrh. It’s a full-time gift of love and service. Some people may consider us foolish for giving this gift. But that’s only because they don’t know the end of the story. The story will end with Jesus saying to us what he said to Artaban:
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father!
Come and possess the kingdom
which has been prepared for you
ever since the creation of the world.
“I was hungry and you fed me,
thirsty and you gave me a drink;
I was a stranger
and you received me in your homes . . .
“I tell you, whenever you did this
for one of the least . . . of mine,
you did it for me!”
(Matthew 25:34–35, 40)
The story of the Epiphany which is only recounted in the Gospel of Matthew is most curious. Who are these Magi? And what is this star that guides them first to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem?
There are all sorts of interesting allusions here and many connections to be made. By Magi we understand that they were probably Zoroastrian astrologers from Persia. But while Christians were strongly warned elsewhere in the New Testament against dabbling in astrology these Magi are presented by Matthew as truly commendable.
Some suggest that the homage that they pay to Jesus is a kind of giving way by astrology and other magical theories to the truth of Christianity. Others say that this incident is to show that even the pagan world had some understanding of the importance of Christ’s role and had inklings of his birth.
Then there is the curiosity of the star. One theory suggests that it was a supernova; others are of the opinion that it was a comet or a conjunction of planets. Or is Matthew simply using a literary device to explain how these astrologers were guided to the stable at Bethlehem? A confessed feminist asked me why God gave the star to the wise men. I professed ignorance. She told me with glee, "God knows men are too proud to ask directions, so He gives you always only the stars."
I think that we have to look at all these things in the light of the title given to the feast. It is an Epiphany, a manifestation. God makes himself known to the world and to specific individuals.
Ironically the people who should have been most sensitive to the things of God are totally unaware of what is happening in their midst while these strangers from afar show a remarkable awareness of the great intervention of God that had occurred in Bethlehem.
God makes himself known; he leads and guides people on their journey through life. We believe that God continually draws all people to himself and often he does so in the most unobtrusive ways.
Recently I came upon a story that I would like to share with you. In this story the three wise men, Gaspar, Balthassar and Melchior, were three different ages. Gaspar was a young man, Balthassar a middle aged man and Melchior an elderly man. They found a stable where the Holy One was and entered to do him homage one at a time.
· Melchior the old man entered first. He found an old man like himself in the cave. They shared stories and spoke of memory and gratitude.
· Middle aged Balthassar entered next. He found a man his own age there. They spoke passionately about leadership and responsibility.
· Young Gaspar was the last to enter. He found a young prophet waiting for him. They spoke about reform and promise.
Afterward when the three kings spoke to each other about their encounter with the Christ, they were shocked at each other’s stories. So they got their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh together and all three went into the cave. They found a baby there, the infant Jesus only twelve days old.
There is a deep message here. Jesus reveals himself to all people, at all stages of their lives, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. Our pictures of Jesus are basically those as conceived by Western European artists. That’s OK, but Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew. If you were to go to Mexico, representations of Jesus would be that of a Mexican. Or an Asian in many places in the East. That is all acceptable, because Jesus has revealed himself of coming for all people, all places. In the Second reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul says that this is the great secret of the ages: that the Christ came not just for the Jews but to be one with all people, Gentiles or non-Jews alike. You are also included …