Homily for the Epiphany of the Lord
Sunday, January 6, 2019
Today the Church celebrates the Epiphany of the Lord. When I think of the word “epiphany” I think of those “Ah-hah!” moments in life when you gain a sudden insight or deeper meaning of something. As we experience from today’s Gospel, the word “epiphany” has another meaning – the manifestation or appearance of something. That “something” in today’s Gospel is the appearance of the Savior-child, Jesus. This “epiphany” occurs as the world realizes that the Messiah has come for all people.
We witness this in Matthew’s account of The Visit of the Magi (MT 2:1-12). In today’s Gospel we hear that familiar story of the three visitors (some call them Magi, some call them Wise men, others call them kings, scholars and pilgrims). These visitors come to pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews. They saw the star in the eastern sky and traveled as pilgrims to worship the Christ-child.
It’s important to note that these men were not Jewish, yet they acknowledged who Christ truly is. They understood that all nations are called to worship Christ, and that all people are called to praise him with the gift of their lives.
As we hear today, when the Magi found the Christ-child, they prostrated themselves (a sign of great reverence), they honored him for who he is (the Savior-king), and the “opened their treasures” and presented him with precious gifts befitting a king (gold, frankincense, and myrrh).
Theologians over the years have provided a deeper meaning of these three gifts given by the Magi.
Saint Irenaeus teaches that these three gifts signify the mystery of the Incarnate God (God who became man). He teaches that:
- Gold is a symbol of Christ’s royalty
- Frankincense (a fragrance used in worship, point’s to Christ’s divinity
- Myrrh (an oil used as a burial ointment) represents Christ’s humanity – especially in his passion and death
Pope Saint Gregory teaches us that these same items represent gifts that we are to present to God in our daily lives. He teaches that:
- Gold is the wisdom of God which is to shine in our lives
- Frankincense is the prayer and adoration we are to give God
- Myrrh is our daily sacrifices we offer to the Lord
So, with this understanding, a question we should ask ourselves is:
How do we continue to shine in God’s wisdom, as children of light?
The answer comes down to “gifts” – how we acknowledge them, and how we use them.
THE HEART OF A SERVANT
About 15 years ago I was in San Antonio for business. One night, while walking home to my hotel after dinner I heard this question in my mind: What gift can I give to the one who gives everything? It startled me and made me pause. Then I heard it again: What gift can I give to the one who gives everything? I excitedly walked to my hotel, went to my room, pulled out my journal and waited for the answer to come: What gift can I give to the one who gives everything? But nothing came … God was silent and I was left alone with my thoughts.
I reflected on that question for quite some time, not knowing the answer. Then, one day I share this story with my friend, Deacon Joe Kennedy (Joe had served as a mentor and spiritual companion as I discerned my call to become a deacon). Joe encouraged me to reflect on how I have been gifted during my years of formation to become a deacon, and challenged me to do what I love to do … put my thoughts and feelings into a poem or lyrics to a song.
I took Deacon Joe’s challenge and penned these words:
What gift can I give to the one who gives everything?
What treasure do I possess that would glorify my king?
Not diamonds or emeralds, not rubies or gold
Those “treasures” are not enough to lay before your throne
Should I sing you a love song and flood you with praise
To prove that my love for you grows stronger every day?
No, you only want one thing; one gift is enough
You simply want all of me, and to abide with you in love
I give you my heart, the heart of a servant, Lord
I give you my joyfulness, my brokenness – everything I am
May I grow to know and love you, and serve the ones you love
I’ll give you a heart like yours: The heart of a servant
There is more to the song, but you get the gist. The chorus of this song (“I give you my heart …”) became my prayer on my day of ordination – to give God my heart in service to him and his people.
In our Second Reading today (EPH 3:2-3A, 5-6) we hear Paul speak of “the stewardship of God’s grace” that was given to Paul for the benefit of Christ’s followers. That statement from Paul is a reminder that we are all charged with being good stewards of God’s grace. To do this, we should take some time to reflect:
- What gifts has God given me?
- What gifts am I called to share with God, and with others?
- How has God called me? Where is he leading me?
- How will I cooperate with God to allow his wisdom shine in my life?
There are no quick, simple answers. Like my experience in San Antonio, we have to be patient and persistent in our discernment.
OPENING OUR TREASURES TO GOD
Today’s Gospel teaches us that the light of Christ extends farther then we could ever imagine. God wants to fill us with wisdom and mercy. He wants us to be good stewards of all that he gives us, and to generously share God’s gifts with others. For this to happen, we have to be like the Magi and “open our treasures” to God. We must:
- Let the “gold” we offer to God be our talents and efforts
- Let the “frankincense” we offer be our prayers and worship
- Let the “myrrh” we offer be our sufferings and sorrows, offered up to God
I encourage you to spend some time in prayer this week, and sit with this question:
What gift can I give to the one who gives everything?
And, today, as we receive the Lord again in Holy Communion, be conscious of the grace you are receiving through this sacrament that allows you to respond to whatever the Lord wants for you – and from you.
Be at peace, and know that you are loved!