Homily of the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
They prostrated themselves and did him homage (Mt 2:11)
In the Bible, there are four Gospels, and each present a unique account of “what we have seen and heard so that you may also have fellowship with us.” (1Jn 1:2). Regarding the infancy narratives, the census brought Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, the city of David. “While they were there, the time came for her to have the child and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in the manger, because there is no room for them in the inn” (Lk 2: 5-7). This is only found in the Gospel of Luke. The account of the Magi “from the East arrived in Jerusalem” inquired about the “newborn king of the Jews” (Mt 2: 2) is only found in Matthew. Since the story of the Magi is so unique to the Gospel of Matthew, let us situate the passage just proclaimed for this Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord in the full context of what went before.
The first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew concerns the genealogy and then the angel reveals the Lord’s birth to St. Joseph in a dream. Clearly, Matthew is primarily interested in establishing that Jesus is born in the line of David; the Savior of the world is no outsider but is thoroughly Jewish. This is important to Matthew because he writes in the aftermath of the Temple destruction (AD 70) with the objective to convince Jews that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law.
Chapter two started this way: “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.’” (Mt 2:1-2).The magi were “from the east” or “the end of the earth.” Matthew brought out this truth: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn 1:11-12).
The tittle of our celebration today is “Epiphany of our Lord.” The word, “epiphany,” comes from the Greek meaning “to manifest” or “to make known.” In other words, we celebrate the manifestation or revelation of Jesus as the Son of God in his birth in time. This solemnity is the original feast of Christ’s birth for our brothers and sisters in the Eastern Church. In the Roman calendar, the Epiphany stands as another highpoint during our Christmas celebration. For this reason, if January 6, the original date of the feast, is not a holy day of obligation during that year, then the celebration is transferred into the Sunday between January 2 and January 8. This decision was made so that a greater number of people can celebrate a wonderful day of our salvation.
Celebrating the Epiphany this year, our attention is directed to the example of the magi: They traveled quite a distance as they followed the star, and “on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage” (Mt 2:11). Prostration before the Infant Child! Clearly these men knew that they were in the presence of not just “the newborn king of the Jews,” but their King! Despite traveling from afar, they also brought “gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” (Mt 2:11). These gifts added to their act of worship and proclaim to us Who Christ is.
Dear friends, Christ is still manifesting Himself to us. We enter God’s house weekly. Upon entering His house, we encounter His Real Presence in the tabernacle. In this regard, I reiterate what was said in the bulletin on the 4th Sunday of Advent: observe the holy silence as you enter the Church out of reverence for the Real Presence of the Lord. In addition, the example of the magi prompts us to ask these series of questions: Is meeting Christ our top priority each week? When we meet Him, do we give Him homage and show reverence knowing that He is our King? Do we offer Him our gifts? In every Mass, the priest reminds his congregation the imitation of the magi: “Pray, brethren (brothers and sisters) that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” With this invitation, the priest “associates the people with himself in offering the sacrifice through Christ in the Holy Spirt to God the Father and gives his brothers and sisters the Bread of eternal life and partakes of it with them.” (GIRM no. 93). So, what are the sacrifices that we bring to each Mass that the priests can unite to the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross to be acceptable to God the Father? These sacrifices can be our frustrations or our suffering as we try to be faithful witnesses to the Lord. To illustrate the point, in my preparation for First Holy Communion, I was taught the following by the catechists: Since Mass then was celebrated early in the morning, “When you hear the Church bell, offer up your wanting to remain in bed to continue your sleep so as to prepare for Mass.” Considering the example of the magi, this teaching of the catechists is simple and yet profound. As disciples of Christ, we are called to respond to Christ’s manifestation in the Eucharist with love, reverence, and gratitude.
In the past six months, our Bishop has sent letters to the faithful announcing the broad dispensation of the obligation of attending Mass on Sunday due to our current health situation. An in every letter, there is an added message like this: Those who can attend Mass should return, remembering that our physical presence at the Eucharistic table is irreplaceable. We are transformed by being joined to Christ in the Eucharist. Only weighty reason should keep us from being sanctified through participation in and our reception of Christ’s body and blood. What was said in those letters of our Bishop is illustrate by the example of the Magi today. May all of us take to heart! Every Eucharistic celebration is an Epiphany of our Lord. The question is: are we the magi? Amen.
Scriptural Readings: Reading I IS 60:1-6; Responsorial Psalm PS 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13; Reading II EPH 3:2-3a, 5-6; Alleluia Mt 2:2; Gospel MT 2:1-12