The Epiphany of the Lord
Isaiah 60:1-6 + Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6 + Matthew 2:1-12
Catechism Link: CCC 528
January 8, 2023
“We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
Secular culture takes what is three-dimensional and flattens it. Christians, then, must be alert to secularism’s encroachment upon Christian culture. If, for example, Christians adopt secularism’s counterfeits of Christmas and Easter, not only do Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny become the seasons’ patron saints. The seasons themselves become distorted, so that Christmas begins on the day after Thanksgiving and ends on December 25th.
By contrast, the Church calls Christians to order their lives in a way that recognizes December 25th as the first full day of Christmastide, and the day of celebrating the first of several mysteries that the Church ponders throughout Christmastide. Among all these mysteries, the Nativity and the Epiphany of the Lord are the two most important.
The Nativity focuses upon the divine Gift given by God the Father to fallen man. The Epiphany also focuses upon the gifts that men offer to God in return. We might say that the Epiphany is the Church’s first focus upon the stewardship of grateful disciples.
In this Sunday’s Gospel Reading, we hear three wise men arriving before the manger. They are willing to sacrifice of themselves in order to find a newborn King. Here we see a sign of their wisdom: their willingness to make profoundly personal sacrifices in addition to the material objects they offer in sacrifice.
Few persons don’t want to be rich. However, there are many people who believe they’re rich, but who have become satisfied with riches that—in the end—aren’t going to do them real good.
Humility is what we see in the three wise kings. They were willing to leave the splendor and riches of their earthly kingdoms in order to enter a grotto where animals lived, in order to prostrate themselves before a child born of a peasant girl.
Picture this: these three wise kings fall to the ground in adoration before the newborn Jesus in a stable, where the hay of the animals was mixed with the animals’ waste. Would you be humble enough to kneel in that hay?
Look at these three wise kings. Look at their sacrifices. Consider two aspects of the sacrifices that the kings make.
The first aspect is their journey. It is long and fraught with peril, much like the journey of discipleship. These three leave behind the lands where they rule, where they are in control, in order to bow down before the Ruler of Heaven and Earth. They make this perilous journey in order to follow Him wherever He asks them to go for His sake.
The second aspect of their sacrifices are the objects that the three wise kings take from their treasuries and place before the new-born King. These splendid objects reflect their human wealth.
Yet these gifts are given as a response to a greater Gift. These gifts are more a reflection of the One to whom they’re given than of those who give them. So also in the practice of stewardship, while one’s giving is in proportion to one’s means, it’s also meant to be given in proportion to the goodness of the One to whom we give.
The gifts the three wise men give to Jesus reflect the divine Person to whom they are giving their gifts. The gold and frankincense reflect Jesus’ kingship and divinity. These gifts are foretold in the First Reading from the Prophet Isaiah.
But Isaiah does not prophesy about the gift of myrrh. Myrrh is a resin used to prepare corpses for burial. What an odd gift for a newborn! Can you imagine someone today showing up at a baby shower with a gift obtained from a mortuary? Nonetheless, the gift of myrrh reflects the wisdom of the three wise men.
It’s often said that God is never outdone in generosity. That truth is reflected in the gift of myrrh. God the Father had given the Gift of His Son. In response, the three wise men give three gifts to the Holy Family. Yet Christmastide is only the start of the Gospel story, and a preparation for the climax reached during Holy Week. On Mt. Calvary, God the Son will offer in sacrifice the Gift of His Body and Blood, soul and divinity. The gift of Good Friday is the source and summit of the Christian life, the gift that gives infinite depth to the journey of discipleship.