THE FEAST OF EPIPHANY

Is. 60:1-6   Eph.3: 2-6  Mt. 2: 1-12

Do you know what would have happened if it had been three Wise Women instead of three Wise Men? Women would say: They would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts. Here’s Men’s rebuttal….Yeah, and do you know what they said would have said when they left? “Did you see the sandals Mary was wearing with that gown?” “That baby doesn’t look anything like Joseph!”  “Can you believe they let all of those disgusting animals in the house?” “I heard that Joseph isn’t even working right now!” “And that donkey that they are riding has seen better days too!” “Want to bet on how long it will take until you get your casserole dish back?”

The magi and the star: The sixth century Italian tradition that there were three magi, Casper, Balthazar, and Melchior, is based on the fact that three gifts are mentioned in Matthew’s gospel: gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Magi may actually have been Persian priests or Babylonian astronomers or Nabataean spice-traders. Eventually, however, they were pictured as representatives of different peoples and races.

The gifts: Gold, frankincense and myrrh may be thought of as prophesying Jesus’ future. Gold was a gift for kings; frankincense was offered to God in Temple worship (Ex. 30:37); and myrrh was used by the High Priest as an anointing oil (Ex. 30:23), and to prepare bodies for burial. These gifts were not only expensive but portable. Perhaps Joseph sold the gifts to finance the Holy Family’s trip to Egypt. The gifts might have been God’s way of providing for the journey that lay ahead.

The Epiphany can be looked on as a symbol for our pilgrimage through life to Christ. The feast invites us to see ourselves as images of the Magi, a people on a journey to Christ. Today’s gospel also tells us the story of the magi’s encounter with the evil King Herod. This encounter symbolizes three reactions to Jesus’ birth: hatred, indifference, and adoration. a) A group of people headed by Herod plans to destroy Jesus. b) Another group composed of priests and scribes ignores Jesus. c) The members of a third group — shepherds and the magi — adore Jesus and offer themselves to Him.

A) The destructive group: King Herod considered Jesus a potential threat to his kingship. Herod the Great was a cruel and selfish king who murdered his mother-in-law, wife, two brothers-in-law and three children on suspicion that they had plotted against him. Later, the Scribes and Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus because he criticized them and tried to reform some of their practices. Today, many oppose Christ and his Church because of their selfish motives, evil ways and unjust lives. Children still have Herods to fear. The United States aborts annually one and a half million innocent, unborn children.

B) The group that ignored Christ: The Scribes, Pharisees and the Jewish priests knew that there were nearly 500 prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the promised Messiah. They were able to tell Herod the exact time and place of Jesus’ birth. They were in the habit of concluding their reading from the prophets on the Sabbath day by saying, “We shall now pray for the speedy arrival of the Messiah.” Unfortunately, they were more interested in their own selfish gains than in discovering the truth. Hence, they refused to go and see the child Jesus–even though Bethlehem was quite close to Jerusalem. Today many Christians remind us of this group. They practice their religion from selfish motives, such as to gain political power, prestige and recognition by society. They ignore Jesus’ teachings in their private lives.

C) The group that adored Jesus and offered Him gifts: This group was composed of the shepherds and the Magi. The shepherds offered the only gifts they had: love, tears of joy, and probably woolen clothes and milk from their sheep. The Magi offered gold, in recognition of Jesus as the king of the Jews; frankincense, in acknowledgment that he was God, and myrrh as a symbol of his human nature.   

Let us make sure that we belong to the third group. a) By worshipping Jesus at Mass with the gold of our love, the myrrh of our humility and the frankincense of our adoration. Let us offer our very selves, promising God that we will use His blessings by doing good to our fellow men. b) By choosing a better path for our lives. Just as the Magi chose another route to return to their home, let us choose a better way of life, abstaining from proud and impure thoughts, evil habits and selfish behavior and actively doing acts of charity. c) By becoming the Star, leading others to Jesus, as the star led the Magi to Him. We can help to remove the darkness of evil around us by being like burning candles, radiating Jesus’ love in selfless service, unconditional forgiveness and compassionate care.

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