The Epiphany of the Lord
Isaiah 60:1-6 + Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6 + Matthew 2:1-12
January 5, 2020
“We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
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click HERE to hear Scott Hahn’s reflection for this solemnity (2:59)
click HERE to watch Jeff Cavins’ reflection for this solemnity (4:30)
click HERE to read the homily of Monsignor Charles Pope for this solemnity
click HERE to watch the homily of Archbishop Charles Chaput for this solemnity (15:05)
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click HERE to read Pope Francis’ 2017 homily for this solemnity
click HERE to read Pope Emeritus Benedict’s 2011 homily for this solemnity
click HERE to read St. John Paul II’s 2003 homily for this solemnity
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The feast of the Epiphany is a feast of reflecting on the gifts we see at Bethlehem. In the Gospel Reading today, we hear of the gifts of the “magi” from the east. But their three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh are responses to an infinitely greater gift: the Gift—with a capital “G”—named Jesus. God the Father gifted this divine gift to mankind. It’s the reflection on all four of these gifts—three human and one divine—that leads Eastern Christians to exchange Christmas gifts on January 6, the twelfth day of the Christmas Season.
You know, of course, that the feast of the Epiphany is the basis for the folk carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. The twelve days referred to in this song—and the corresponding twelve gifts that are described—mark the days that stretch between the Birth of Jesus, and His Epiphany to the Wise Men, the Epiphany traditionally being celebrated on January 6. These two feasts of the Nativity of Jesus and the Epiphany of Jesus are the poles of the Christmas Season, just as the North Pole and the South Pole are the poles of the planet earth.
That image of the planet earth is actually a good way to reflect upon today’s feast. In every one of today’s Scripture passages, including our Responsorial Psalm, we hear that God’s grace is given as a gift for all the peoples of the earth. In the First Reading from Isaiah, we hear the prophet proclaim to Jerusalem that “Nations shall walk by your light” and that “the wealth of nations shall be brought to you”. Through the refrain of the Responsorial Psalm, we proclaim to the Lord that “every nation on earth will adore you.” In the Second Reading from his Letter to the Ephesians, we hear Saint Paul preach that “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus”.
All of these passages from Sacred Scripture point our attention to God’s desire that His grace be spread universally throughout the earth. These Scripture passages culminate in the Gospel story about the pagan “magi from the east” who “arrived in Jerusalem”, bearing the gifts that Isaiah foretold. When the wise men “prostrated themselves and did [the child Jesus] homage”, they fulfilled the refrain of today’s Psalm. These pagan kings were only three, but they represent all the Gentiles of the earth, from north to south and east to west. These pagan kings represent all those whom God wanted to be co-partners with the Jews, “members of the same [Mystical] body” of Christ.
The Church, in other words, is meant by God to be universal. “Universal” is simply another word for “catholic”. Most likely, when you and I are discussing religious matters with others and use the word “Catholic”, we’re using it in contrast to words such as “Methodist” or “Baptist” or “Presbyterian”. But that’s not the Scriptural meaning of the word “catholic”. The literal meaning of the word “catholic” is “universal”. The word “catholic” refers to God’s desire that His grace cover the earth from north to south and east to west. God’s Church is catholic because His heart is catholic.
Put another way, the universal Faith of God’s Church is where the two great commandments kiss. Jesus taught us to love God and to love our neighbor. He expanded on that second great commandment with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, teaching us that every man, woman and child on the face of God’s green earth is our neighbor, without exception. That’s how Jesus loved on the Cross. He gave His Body and Blood, soul and divinity for all mankind: for every last sinner, without exception. That’s the Love that became Flesh and dwelt among us in the Person of Jesus, who was born for us, and appeared to us in Bethlehem.
The Season of Christmas lasts only one more week. It ends next Sunday with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. So we need to continue celebrating this spiritual season of gift-giving. It’s in response to God’s Gift of His Son Jesus that you can come before the child Jesus and lay your self with your gifts at His feet.
But notice! That order is very important. It’s not that we give our selves to God and, in response, God—being mightily impressed with us—gives us His Son. That’s not how God’s love works. In a passage from one of his letters, a passage which the Church proclaims during Christmastide, Saint John the Evangelist reveals the nature of the divine love that became Flesh and dwelt among us. “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us, and has given us His Son as an offering for our sins” [1 John 4:10].