Sunday Sermon for January 7, 2018, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, Year B
Readings: Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12
Today we celebrate an event that is nothing short of miraculous. Of course, we can look at the Magi following the star, their arduous journey to Jerusalem, and their eventual finding of the Christ Child. All of this is certainly miraculous, especially the way God used the alignment of the stars and the Magi’s desire to discover some hidden wisdom in the natural movement of the heavenly bodies.
Although these men were not clear in their understanding, I think it is true, nonetheless, to assume they were sincere in seeking the truth. It is also because of this desire for the truth that God pointed the way to Him Who is Truth Itself by using what they would understand. It is fascinating that God can use even error to bring us to the Truth.
So, while this is indeed miraculous, I think the greater miracle is the one spoken of by St. Paul in the second reading: the mystery not revealed to the people of past ages but now revealed to the Apostles and prophets through the Holy Spirit: that the Gentiles are coheirs with the Jews and members of the same Body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.
God had certainly revealed to the Prophets of the Old Testament that there would be a union of the Gentiles with the Jewish people, but there no way either the Prophets or anyone else would have even thought it would happen the way it did. These Magi are the first representatives of the nations to express faith in Jesus. They came seeking a king, but Herod, the Chief Priests, and the Scribes understood this King to be the Messiah. From the Gospel is seems clear that Herod did not inform the Magi that the King they sought was anything more than an earthly king.
Perhaps they could infer that something greater was taking place since the Baby was not born in the royal palace, nor did anyone in the royal court know anything about the birth of this Child. Regardless, what we do know, as we read in the Gospel is that when they found the Child, they prostrated themselves and worshiped Him. Our translation uses the word “homage” which can have a meaning of worship, but homage is what is given to an earthly king. The Greek word used by St. Matthew means “worshiped.” Something must have been revealed to them so they recognized that Jesus is God.
What is more astounding is that the Gentiles, with all of their false gods, could not have had a clear concept of the one true God taking a human nature to Himself. Yet that is precisely what happened. As we saw on Christmas, the Jewish shepherds believed when the Angel appeared to them and they worshiped Him, but in today’s Gospel we are told Herod and all of Jerusalem were troubled. We know the Chief Priests and the Scribes either did not believe anything the Magi told them or they were afraid of Herod, otherwise they would have been the first to beat a path to Bethlehem to worship their Messiah.
St. Paul tells us that it is the disobedience of the Jews that brought about the conversion of the Gentiles. St. Paul, a staunch Pharisee, desired the conversion of the Jews to Christ with his whole heart. He tells us also that the day will come when the Jewish people will come to the Lord and be saved.
Today we live in times that are remarkably similar to time when Jesus was born. Then, the Jewish people had the fullness of the revealed truth, but they either took it for granted or they ignored it. Many who sought to live the faith simply went through the motions; God was part of their lives, but He was not central. They lived worldly lives, even taking on some of the customs of the Gentiles from the surrounding nations.
Today, it is we who have the fullness of the revealed truth, but what was said above about the Jewish people 2000 years ago by St. Paul can be said of many Catholic people today. So many have left the Church because being Protestant is easier or because they do not want to follow the moral teachings of the Church. Among our young people, so many have left everything they are now called “nones” because when asked about their religion they answer “none.”
Perhaps God is preparing for another great miracle: bringing the Jewish people into the fullness of Faith, acknowledging Jesus as their Messiah, and being baptized. Perhaps He is also preparing for the conversion of the “nones.” Today we celebrate the epiphany to the Gentiles; we pray for the epiphany “nones” and to the Jewish people.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.