The Epiphany of the Lord – Fr. Adam Royal
January 5, 2020 – 8:30 AM
I agonized over this homily. I’ve agonized not because there is almost nothing to say about this Gospel. On the contrary, there is too much. In so many ways this may be one of the most beautiful stories in the Gospels. At first, this isn’t apparent. In fact, on the surface this looks like a truly bizarre story. Three unnamed astrologers from an unknown land in the East are guided by a star to Bethlehem to pay homage to the baby of a mother who just gave birth in a barn. The three magi bring three unusual gifts to the infant: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. To top it all off a homicidal King is so afraid of this baby that he demands to know its whereabouts just so he can kill it.
But all of these oddities are only on the surface level. Every detail of this story is filled with meaning and takes us deeper into the mysteries of God, the mysteries of his love for us. The star in the east is a sign that all of creation has been awaiting this moment, the moment that God reveals his plan of salvation. The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh prefigure that plan. The gold is for the crown that Jesus will wear as our king. The frankincense and myrrh are to anoint his body as it lies in the tomb. But they are also the signs of a wedding. As King Solomon traveled to meet his bride in the Song of Songs he sat upon a chair of gold surrounded by a cloud of frankincense and myrrh. So these gifts also symbolize that God has come to wed himself to humanity, that Christ is preparing the Church to become his bride. The homicidal kings represents the fearful political powers of the world. They feared that God was coming to overthrow them with the sword and establish a new kingdom. Instead, he came quietly in a manger and taught us how to love, how to show mercy.
For all of this, I think the symbol that stands out the most is the symbol of the magi themselves. They are the symbol of God’s love for us. The magi are astrologers, fortunetellers. The Old Testament again and again condemns star gazing, fortunetelling, and every form of sorcery. So the magi are sinners the consummate outsiders and, according to the Old law, deserving of death. But they were called. Despite the sins of their past and their dedication to a way of life contrary to the laws of God they were called. God still loved them and wanted them to be witnesses to his greatest work. So they are the symbol that each and every person on earth is worth something. That we have all been made in the image and likeness of God, that we are all loved by God and desired by God. That God so desires to be with us that he, the infinite transcendent God, who created all things would actually be born as we are born. And that he would live among us knowing that we would nail him to a cross. That we would reject him and murder him because he dared to teach us the truth and showed us the face of love.
The magi are a symbol that there is no barrier to God’s love. No matter our sins, our background, or our life experiences, he loves us and he wants to be in a relationship with us. All we have to do is accept it, and he will give us the grace to live a life that leads to eternal happiness. This is the Epiphany, the revelation of God’s infinite love which can overcome any barrier.
To celebrate this feast, this epiphany, let us tell others about God’s love. Let us tell them about his mercy and what he has done for us. The magi had to leave their homelands and risk death at the hands of King Herod to learn of this message and to spread it. Yet, they did it. So what is stopping us?