Sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany
by Msgr. Ignacio Barreio
Christmastide is completed by the feast of the Epiphany which is the manifestation of the Lord to the whole world. Following an ancient tradition that originated in the Eastern Church, in this feast we not only celebrate the adoration of the child Jesus by the Wise Kings but also the baptism of Christ at the Jordan with the Trinitarian manifestation and the first miracle of Christ, the transformation of water into wine at the wedding of Cana. At the same the Church in her ancient wisdom celebrates these feasts in separate occasions so we can meditate better the value of these three separate events. The manifestations of God were many before the coming of Christ, they were many during the life of Christ and thanks to His marvelous generosity that comes to the aid of our weakness they have continued after the Ascension. You have an Epiphany every time a miracle transforms and changes the natural order that we can experience. Society sees an epiphany every time she is ruled by a holy king that reflects the light of God for all society to see and experience it. That is why in Spain many celebrate this feast as the feast of the traditional monarchy. Remember that a ruler obtains his legitimacy if he rules in accordance with God’s law and reflects His light on earth. We should also speak of an Epiphany when the sun danced in the sky of Fatima. As the faith seems to fade on this Earth we beg His divine assistance that He should send us more signs of His presence and action, if that is His divine will.
This contrast between a world that is in darkness and the light that comes from the presence of God in the world is well described in Isaias’ prophesy that we have just heard. In this feast we see Christ as the Light of World, the only light that can illuminate those who are walking in darkness and in the shadow of death, as Saint Gregory Nazianzeno reminds us. For the Greek Fathers of the Church, the worse tragedy of man is the ignorance of Christ. This ancient valuable insight, which is part of the traditional wisdom of the Church, is confirmed by the darkness that we experience in the contemporary world that really does not know about Christ and His saving power or it has an erroneous view of who Christ really is or worse has turned its back on Christ.
In Christmas the child Jesus was adored by a small group of shepherds, in Epiphany we celebrate the manifestation of the saving grace of the Lord to the whole world, who is adored by the three Wise Kings who represent the whole of humanity. Tradition has depicted them as one being Caucasian, and other being African and the third as being Oriental, so in them we have represented the three main ethnical groups of the world. Also another tradition sees them as being very young, another mature man and the third being a man of senior years. So in them the three ages of mankind are reflected.
The wise kings were guided by a miraculous star that God sent to guide them. Let us live to side naturalistic astronomical explanations that are not very satisfying and accept as miracle that changed in this particular case the laws of astronomical movements. This star St. Augustine explains in one of his Epiphany sermons has destroyed the false interpretations of the astrologers and the false beliefs of the adorers of stars. Today we would say that it destroys the proud knowledge of the adorers of science that in many cases it is a false science. We have to adore instead the creator of Heaven and of Earth. Prophesizing Jesus’ coming a new star shone on Heaven, marking His death the sun was obscured, in His last coming His light will outshine any light that we have experienced or we could experience. The Wise Kings were not searching for just another king of the Jews that would have been irrelevant to them they were searching the new king of Israel that was also the eternal king destined to rule for ever and ever.
In the gifts of the Wise Kings we have a very important message on the nature of the Divine Child. A message that was received by those great men before they saw Christ, before they started their voyage, when they were guided by the interior motion of God to selected their gifts. So before adoring the visible incarnated Lord, they started to adore Him in their minds and hearts with the hope of seeing him in a visible way. The incense proclaims the divinity of the child Jesus. Incense is offered primarily to God. Remember how many Christians in the early roman persecutions suffered martyrdom because they refused to offer a pinch of incense to the infamous and abominable idols that St. Agustin describes so well in the City of God. This is also reminder to us that the growingly tyrannical world in which we have to live is ready to persecute us because we refuse to pander to what is politically correct. This happens because we refuse to offer the incense of our conformity to many of the contemporary abominations that violate God’s natural and divine law. Myrrh was offered to him signifying his human nature. Also it is prophetic reminder of the myrrh mixed with wine that offered to Christ in his Passion and of the mix of myrrh and other species that were prepared to preserve the body of Christ by the women that assisted Him during His public ministry and stayed with Him until the bitter end. Gold represents the regality of Christ which it is clearly proclaimed in the liturgy of this feast and that it has been taught by the constant magisterium of the Church. It represents the tributes and taxes that are due to earthly kings or to other civil authorities. Also it makes a reference to the obligation that Christians have to support in a material way the Church and other Christian works of charity in proportion to their economics means and the duties they have towards their families.
Those symbolic gifts, should lead us to meditate on the gifts that we Christians ought to offer to God, as Saint Leo the Great reminds us on his Second Homily on the Epiphany. The Lord wants our serious commitment and our work, because the Kingdom of God is not given to the ones that sleep, but instead to the persons that make a serious and constant effort to practice the commandments and engage in corporal and spiritual works of mercy. In our particular case besides practicing the commandments the Lord, has given to us the particular vocation to proclaim the Gospel of Life, so in this Epiphany our gift to the newly born King is to strengthen our efforts to proclaim the integral truth of the Church on the Doctrine of the Faith and in a special way on life and family. Our efforts to live and proclaim the faith will be rewarded by our entry into His eternal kingdom but also will be instrumental in establishing His Social Kingdom on earth.
The Lord manifested Himself to the world, but after two thousand years this presence seems to have been muted. The Lord established His Church to carry on His manifestation until the end of the world, so the Church and ourselves as members of the Church we have to find ways to continue to present Christ’s saving message in all possible ways. We have to present this message in such a way that it will create the same admiration and marvel that it caused in its first listeners. At the same time accompanied by the liturgical beauty that lead to the delegates of Kiev to convert after experiencing the Divine Liturgy at Santa Sofia in Constantinople. The grace of the Lord in the same way that converted the hearts of the wise man before they saw the child Jesus, also is operation in the hearts and minds of many of the men our days, but in same way that those wise man were confirmed in their interior faith by seeing the child, the men of our days need to see our convincing testimony so that the interior movement of the soul might be confirmed. Here with all humility we petition again to the Lord that in these tragic times of our history He would confirm with special signs the faith that we should present.
At the beginning of the year we wish each other a Happy and Prosperous New Year. Be certain that the year that we are starting, will be happy and prosperous if we follow the ways of the Lord. So what I sincerely wish to all you is that you truly accept the Reign of the Lord in your hearts and minds so that He can truly rule society then all the rest that we need will be added to us because no one defeats the generosity of the Lord.
May the Lord Bless you and Keep you.
(The stained glass window is in St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church, Manhattan, recently closed by the Archdiocese of New York)