Homily for Jan. 2, Sunday, Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
“Lord, every nation on earth will adore You.” These words from the responsorial psalm today effectively sum up the meaning of today’s liturgy, the Feast of the Epiphany. Today we celebrate the day when the wise men who had traveled from the East guided by a star, arrived in Bethlehem to do homage to the baby Jesus.
This was a very important moment, because from the time that God called Abraham until Jesus’ birth, God’s covenants and revelations had been focused on the descendants of Abraham, the chosen people of God. God laid the groundwork for His plan to save all of humanity by preparing this relatively small nation to be able to recognize and understand who God was and what His plan was. There were prophecies about other nations coming to know God through them (as in the first reading and psalm today). However, the Israelites were supposed to keep themselves culturally and religiously isolated from the other nations around them (collectively referred to as the Gentiles) so that God could cultivate first in them, like in a greenhouse, the seedling of true faith and knowledge of God.
But when Christ was born, the seedling had come to maturity and bloomed. It was time to bring it out of the protected environment and let it spread to all people of the world. The Magi, wise men from the East, were the first representatives of the Gentiles to see and honor Jesus Christ. For this reason, in Christian communities around the world, the Feast of the Epiphany is as big a feast as Christmas (or bigger). The arrival of the Magi represents the first encounter with Christ of all of us who are not converts from Judaism. In a way, today is the day we Gentiles received the gift of the Savior. As St Paul says, we are now “coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” That’s something worth celebrating!
Of course, the Magi did not go to the Lord with empty hands; they brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts are seen to have specific meanings: gold as recognition of Christ’s Kingship; frankincense as honoring His divinity; and myrrh as a prophecy of anointing His body after death on the cross, an acknowledgement of His humanity as well as of the suffering that He would undergo for our salvation.
Today, we are here to celebrate the gift of the Savior, and we receive Him in a way that the Magi could never have imagined. We eat His body and drink His blood in the Eucharist, receiving His life without destroying it; He is food that transforms us into Himself. As we accept this incredible gift, let us offer to the Lord our own gifts: our love for Him as a real human Person, our worship and praise to Him as Son of God, and our faithfulness to His teachings and commandments as our Good Shepherd and King.