Epiphany Day Homily
While all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, the almighty Word of God leaped down from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed. Yet this mighty Word of God was made known only to the believing at first. The Virgin Mother and her holy Spouse, and the shepherds who heeded and trusted the angels. But, on that first Christmas, Our Lord hid Himself from the unbelieving—from King Herod, from the citizens of Jerusalem, and from Joseph’s own family who had rejected him and forced his pregnant wife into a stable.
Yet today the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament reveals His handiwork. For the proclamation of His Epiphany, the preaching of His appearance, and the report of His arrival in our human flesh has gone out into all lands. It began with the angels singing “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” Then came the shepherds, those first preachers of Our Lord’s nativity. And now, today, we hear that the guiding star leads the Magi to become joyful heralds to those who live in the farthest reaches of the earth.
Now, no one is excluded. God in our flesh can be seen by all. Even those who refuse cannot deny to see Christ in glory on the cross.
Before the cross, there was a spectacular star. Who is this star that proclaims that the King is here? To be sure, it is a natural phenomenon. Yet with this star, the whole creation greets her Creator who lets Himself be created. But while it is an unique occurrence in nature, the Epiphany star is also a spiritual harbinger.
Consider this: How does Mary know that she bears and gives birth to the Son of God unless the angel Gabriel tells her? How do the shepherds know this infant is their Savior, Christ the Lord, unless the angel announces it to them? And how do the Magi know that the Child in Bethlehem is King Messiah worthy of all worship and sacrifice, unless the star proclaims and leads them?
None of this preaching—by Gabriel, by the angels, or by the star—none of this happens apart from the Holy Spirit of God. And so, the star in the East is more than a natural phenomenon. It is the work of God. In fact, we can be so bold as to say that it is the Spirit of God—not this time appearing as a dove, but as the pillar and tongue of fire concentrated in a heavenly orb, sitting over Bethlehem, alighting on the Son of Man.
Yet the splendor of this star and the glory of this day seem sullied when we recall the cruel machinations of wicked King Herod—a cruelty against Our Lord, a cruelty against all that is true and just, a cruelty extends even to this day.
Earthly rulers are too often in love with their corrupting and corruptible thrones. And they are often committed to wresting power from God.
King Herod is so afraid of losing power, that he fears a tiny infant, a helpless babe. And the Magi’s question—“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?”—this question troubles and frightens Herod into horrific brutality; and all Jerusalem with him.
Yet do not let violence dampen your celebration. For as the Spirit of God proclaims through a star, as He preaches through simple shepherds and astute Magi, so He also uses the fury of Herod to fulfill prophecy and to further God’s mercy. Violence cannot stomp out God’s justice. The blood of martyrs, the blood of the most innocent, only increases and furthers God’s kingdom. And God’s mercy expands to overwhelm all hatred.
So do not be afraid. Even if things look bleak now. Even if there is much to fear. For who is with us? The Child who is God, who warned the Magi, who destroyed death by His death, who cannot be undone. This is the One who stands with us; Whose victory gives us hope; and Whose love encourages us to stand fast with Him.
That’s what the Magi did. They don’t give into fear. Instead, they heed the divine warning and so return to their own country another way. Then the ever-righteous, ever-protective Joseph takes the young Child and His mother by night and departs for Egypt. Not that the Holy Family flees in fear, but to expand the Lord’s reign. For in the land that once housed another barbaric Pharaoh who sought to kill the infant Moses—there the Son of God will remain. And with His presence, He will bless the gentile nation that once welcomed another Joseph. And in this way, the glory of the Lord will again be revealed; and the mercy of God will again be openly made known to all men—and especially to us.
Herod, that enraged tyrant, does not perceive any of this. Neither do the chief priests or scribes, who acquiesce to the horrid crime of slaying innocent boys in hopes of killing the Christ. But make no mistake—they all know that the babe at Bethlehem is the promised Messiah. You heard them say so themselves.
And their cruelty will confirm what they have declared. The slaughter of the innocent martyrs reveals that the new Moses, the true Messiah, has arrived. And one Herod’s barbarity points ahead to another Herod who will mockingly and gladly hand Jesus over to a tortuous death at the hands of Pontius Pilate.
Remember, the violence of devil-inspired men is how our salvation is accomplished. That is how the mercy of God comes to full fruition. And most significantly, that is how we live—by eating and drinking the flesh and blood of our God sacrificed on the cross. For what they meant as destruction we now get to receive for our salvation.
This is how we get to give thanks to the Lord who turns cruelty into our redemption. His thoughts exceed our imagination, and His wisdom is wiser than any Magi. For He uses the cruelty of Herod to further the Gospel of our salvation. And in so doing, Our Lord shows us that He is in the habit of deceiving the Deceiver, and of turning Satan’s accusations into the means of our salvation.
And so, we see that our rejoicing today is built upon two pillars. First, there is the Spirit-induced phenomenon of the star which leads Gentile kings into faithful worship. And this shows us that we also may worship Christ the King. And second, there is the satanic plot of Herod which the same Spirit uses not only to further the message to all peoples, but most importantly, to reveal to us the mercy of God resident in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus.
What an epiphany, then, that we celebrate! For our joy is heightened not just by the fact that Jesus appears for all men, but also by the undeniable truth that His appearance means that the tyranny of sin is overthrown, the cruelty of man will not remain, the deceptions of the devil are turned to our good, and the reign of terror has ended.
Let us then give thanks not as we choose, but as Our Lord wills—by receiving into our mouths and hearts the flesh and blood of this Child whom angels praised, whom shepherds preached, whom Wise Men worshipped, whom Egyptians welcomed, and whom even Herod—in God’s mysterious way—revealed to be our King of mercy. For to this Lord Jesus Christ, together with His Father in the Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor and worship: world without end.