Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Epiphany of the Lord

January 3, 2021
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13
Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12

The Feast of the Epiphany is about the gift of a revelation that both offers and requires the gift of faith. The Feast of the Epiphany invites us into the mystery of the truth, the truth that we seek to know through reason and science and the truth that we come to know through the gift of faith. One truth, two paths, faith and reason. The Magi, whom we meet in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew are not simply people who have a warm spiritual experience in seeing the Baby Jesus, they are people who follow their path laid out by reason and the science of their contemporary times and this path delivers them to discover the King who is promised to be born in Bethlehem.

Yet, in the Divine Infant surrounded by Mary and Joseph, they receive the gift and light of faith by which they understand the truth that the Child born into poverty and humility is in fact the Son of God, worthy of worship. They recognize the Christ Child in the manger as not just a political figure or even a messianic king, but truly God incarnate. Faith is not simply positive thinking nor a subjective and spiritual experience; faith carries with it an objective character by which the truth is fully known, and it is the truth that enlightens our eyes, bolsters our wills, and sets us free.

The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem 587 years before Christ was born. Then 50 years later the Persians conquered Babylon and allowed the Jews to return home. The Jews had an almost unimaginable task of rebuilding their home, the temple, and their lives. In the first reading, Isaiah prophesies that Jerusalem will again be a great city and a light for the world. People from all nations will come to Jerusalem to worship God. Matthew reveals this vision fulfilled in the birth of Jesus and the visit of the Magi from Babylon and Persia.

The Magi embarked on a long journey from what is modern day Iraq and Iran to seek to discover a king who would oppose the Romans. They determine, from watching the stars, that such a king is to be born among the Jews, and they charter their way to Jerusalem where they encounter Herod, a petty tyrant fearful of losing his power and status. They search for a discovery, but they receive a revelation. Their search leads them to discover that the long-promised king is born in Bethlehem, but what they receive is beyond the human mind to discover with unaided reason — they receive the revelation that the Child is truly Divine and worthy of worship. They receive the revelation that in Bethlehem of Judea, the least among the cities of Israel, is born the Son of God. Part of this revelation of faith includes their receiving a message in a dream to ignore Herod’s request to return to him with information of the child so that he might kill the newborn Christ. The revelation that the Magi receive in faith leads them on a different route home because they are changed and converted by faith.

Pope Benedict XVI offered a keen insight into the significance of this feast several years ago, “Herod listened to the interpretations of the Prophet Micah’s words, made by his experts in Sacred Scripture, but his only thought was of the throne. So, God Himself had to be clouded over and people had to be reduced to mere pawns to move on the great chessboard of power. Herod is a figure we dislike, whom we instinctively judge negatively because of his brutality. Yet, we should ask ourselves: is there perhaps something of Herod also in us? Might we too sometimes see God as a sort of rival? Might we too be blind to His signs and deaf to His words because we think He is setting limits on our life and does not allow us to dispose of our existence as we please?”

The feast of Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of God’s glory beginning with, but moving beyond, the Jewish nation to the Gentiles, and the revelation of Jesus as Son of God known through faith and given to the entire world. The Magi challenge us to be aware of the guiding light of our lives. How does God direct us and lead us? Where is His light and what prevents us from seeing that light? The Magi challenge us not to be satisfied with our lives but to continue to dream and to hope … to continue to grow in our understanding of the world and our vocation here. They remind us to bring our gifts before the Lord — not expensive gold, frankincense and myrrh — but only our poverty and our willingness to receive what God gives us and to do what God asks of us.

The figure of Herod should prompt us to surrender the throne of our hearts to its rightful Sovereign, Jesus Christ. Herod listened to his experts in religion and prophecy about the coming king, but neither Herod nor his religious experts heard what God was expressing in the prophecy out of His love for His people, nor did they act on what they heard. Herod had cunning but not right reason. Herod’s religious consultants had reason but not cunning. Neither Herod nor his religious experts accepted the gift of faith and neither go to the manger to worship the Son of God. But only the Magi had right reason and received the gift of faith for they were searching for something beyond the scope of the limits of even their great and talented intellects and in meeting the humble and Divine Infant, they received the radical truth of humanity’s humility before God.

The Magi remind us that our search for God in which only our hearts might find rest involves right reason, proven science, and the authentic gift of faith that offer us the truth. The Magi remind us that the most liberating aspects of the truth are not by way of discovery but by way of God’s gift of revelation and faith through which He saves us from our sins. We learn from the Magi that encountering Christ through the gift of faith requires our conversion from our sins, so that the stewardship of God’s grace of the mystery that was made known by revelation might make us live as co-heirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.

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