Sunday Sermon for January 8, 2017, The Solemnity of Epiphany, Year A
Readings: Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12
Today we celebrate the Epiphany, or Manifestation, of our Lord. Traditionally there are three different aspects of our Lord’s life which are separated by time and distance, but are united in that they are all manifestations of our Lord’s divinity. These three events are the star and the arrival of the Magi, the Baptism of our Lord along with the descent of the Holy Spirit and the voice of the Father, and the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana where His disciples first began to believe in Him.
In our day these three events are celebrated separately, so we will focus only on what the readings give us for today. The primary point of this feast is that the Gentiles, the nations, the non-Jewish people, recognize Jesus as the the King of the Jews and as God. Of course, our Lord came not only to save the Jews, but all people. Mary, Joseph, Anna, and Simeon had all recognized our Lord for Who He is and they professed their faith in Him. In this they stand as representatives of the Jewish people. The three Magi represent the Gentiles.
If we look back to the time of Noah, we realize that all people came from three families. We all come from Adam and Eve, but after the flood we all can be traced back to Shem, Japheth, or Ham. The Shemites, most often known by the Latin form of the word, Semites, form the Jewish people and some others from the Middle East. The children of Japheth populated the areas to the north and east while the offspring of Ham filled primarily the African continent and some of the Middle East.
At one time everyone was united in the same truth and all were given the same promise of a Messiah. With the passage of time and the migration of peoples much of what had been revealed to our earliest ancestors was no longer being passed on to the generations of people outside of the Holy Land. Nonetheless, God is faithful to His promises; He desires the salvation of all and sent His Son into the world to offer salvation to all people.
This is why St. Paul is making such an issue about the mystery that was hidden from ages past but is now revealed to the Apostles and Prophets through the Holy Spirit, namely that the Gentiles are now coheirs with the Jews, members of the same body, and co-partners in promises in Jesus Christ. God’s promises were made to and through the Jewish people, but they were not intended only for the Jews. Our human nature likes to think that if something is given to me, it is for me only. God gave His promises for all people, but only the descendants of Shem were applying the promises to themselves.
This is the importance of the revelation to the Gentiles. Once again, everyone is united in one faith; no one is excluded from the promises of God. Traditionally, the three Wise Men are shown to be representatives of the peoples as we see in the migration from the ark. There is one king from Africa, one from Asia, and one from the northern climes. This would encompass everyone in the known world at the time and reunite the family of Noah and, before him, the family of Adam and Eve.
Isaiah had prophesied this as we read in the first reading, but something far greater than the arrival of the caravans and dromedaries with gifts to offer to the king took place. I always find the translation we have been given of the Gospel reading today to be unfortunate. We are told that the three Magi prostrated themselves and did Him homage. Homage might well be given to an earthly king along with their gifts. But the Greek is very clear and states that they worshiped Him. Worship is something given only to God. This means that these men recognized something infinitely greater than their eyes could see.
They came looking for an earthly king who they assumed would be found in the royal palace. One might assume a fair amount of disappointment when they found the Baby in such rough surroundings. But something had to have happened within them that allowed them to see beyond the externals and to make an act of faith that this child is not only the King of the Jews (a truth that would be proclaimed again on the Cross), but that He is God.
It is unlikely that the Wise Men would have known the history of the Jews, especially the point about their rejection of God as their King. Now it is manifest that God is King, for both the Jews and the Gentiles. Praise Him!
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.