An Epiphany Day homily
The day when God pulled off the greatest wonder of all time by interweaving and interlocking and interpenetrating our flesh with His divinity;
the day when a virgin—think of that, a virgin—became the Mother of God and, at the same time, retained her virginity forever;
the day when the God the Word became a speechless infant;
the day when the Creator made Himself a creature;
the day when the Messiah promised for centuries finally arrived in our world;
the day when the Governor and Monarch of the entire cosmos was found lying in a manger;
the day when the Almighty became a vulnerable baby capable of suffering and death;
the day when the Mediator between God and human beings bridged the unbridgeable gap by becoming completely human while not laying aside an ounce of His divinity—
that day; that glorious day; that day that exceeds all days in joy and gladness—
that day is so revered that its celebration cannot be confined to just one day; or eight days; or twelve days.
Our celebration must now be extended another week so that we can both ponder and rejoice in this mystery that not only brings our redemption, but also lets us be the humans we were designed to be—women and men capable of receiving God, containing God in our soul, and approaching God with boldness and confidence.
And so, the Feast of the Epiphany prolongs our joy of Christmas, even as it reveals to us another aspect of Our Lord’s extraordinary incarnation.
What gift is suitable, appropriate, and right for the one who holds all life in the hollow of His hand? And if God has all, why offer Him anything?
Part of that aspect is that experts who point out where God in the flesh is to be found—in Bethlehem of Judaea as written by the prophets—these experts refuse to believe their own truthful testimony, and the prophets who told them; and so they stay put while the Magi venture forth to find the One revealed by a miraculous star.
Yet not just these experts, but also a king—who is so afraid of his own demise, afraid that someone might take away all that he has, a fool whose soul will be required after he had a chance to prepare—this king will also lie about wanting to following the Magi, not to adore Life Himself, the Living Bread come down to heaven, the King of the Angels; but rather to murder and destroy Him—incredibly believing that he alone can do what no Satan could do—that he, as a puppet king of the Romans, can somehow kill God.
But the Magi—they are unmindful of inconvenience or threats or evil machinations. They are single minded in both reaching the star’s destination, and in adoring the baby who was promised to other people, yet prophesied as savior of all nations.
And what do these Magi wish to do? Treat a stable as if it were a king’s palace. Approach a manger as if it were a throne. Kneel before, and adore, and worship a cooing infant as if he had issued life-altering proclamations. And then present the King of heaven and earth with a few precious gifts—precious and costly and dignifying to them, but meager and inconsequential to the Lord they adored.
Remember what the Lord says: the whole world is mine, and all that is therein. Thinkest thou that I will eat bulls’ flesh, and drink the blood of goats?
So, what do you give to the almighty who holds all things in His hands, and who has no need for anything, and who can create from nothing everything He wants? What gift is suitable, appropriate, and right for the one who holds all life in the hollow of His hand? And if that is the case, why offer God anything?
And the Magi know this. You can see it in their relentless pursuit of the star. You can see it in their belief in the Scripture prophecies from the scribes. And you can see it in the gifts they offer—especially the frankincense. For the Magi know and believe that they are bowing not before the up-and-coming King of the Jews. They know and believe that they are genuflecting in the stable-temple, toward the manger-tabernacle, before God Himself.
The Magi believe that they are genuflecting in the stable-temple, toward the manger-tabernacle, before God Himself.
Yet they still offer Him meaningful gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh—all for the Child that they are proclaiming, by their gifts, is God the King come in the flesh in order to die for the redemption and salvation of not just people, but particularly for those three.
The greatest present, however, is their presence. For they know that God has all that exists, and that an infant can do nothing with what they give. But their kneeling, their adoration, they determined faith, their trust in the star’s preaching—that is their truest, most authentic, and best offering, sacrifice, and gift.
And this should be a relief to us. For God has given us all we have, even our life itself, not to take it back; but so that we might know that He is the giver, and thereby adore Him with the gift of ourselves—in His church-temple, kneeling before His Eucharist-tabernacle, adoring the Word made flesh made the Bread of Heaven into to transform us into His own dear brothers and sisters.
What shall we give, then, to the Lord for all that He has given to us? Shall we not imitate the Magi? We should. We must. And so, like them, we should offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the Most High. And we should receive the cup of salvation. And we should call upon the name of the Lord.
And as we revere the mysteries devoted to our salvation—the mystery of the Incarnation, and the mystery of Christ before you in the Mass and placed in you in the Eucharist—as we reverse these holy mysteries, let us not be content merely with showing up and giving thanks with our lips.
For the Magi did not simply offer themselves, their worship, and their gifts. They also “went home by another way.” Spiritually, that other way was a changed heart, a mind set on the things of God, a fearless desire, and a faith, hope, and love aimed not at what benefited them here and now, but at what aided others and assisted their salvation.
The worship of the mysteries, the adoration of Christ in His sacraments—that also should urge us to “go home by another way.” As the Magi turned away from Herod and the selfishness he shows, we can heed St Paul and abstain from carnal desires—pride, wrath, greed, lust, envy, despondency, gluttony—which wage war against the soul. Yet it is not enough to turn aside. Like the Magi, our hearts should be filled with love for the chaste life, since Christ is the Son of a Virgin. And we should be as little children with respect to wickedness, because the Lord of glory conformed himself to the infancy of mortals. And we should earnestly pursue true humility—the humility we see both in the Christ Child and in the Magi. And finally, like the persistent and unwavering Magi, we should clothe ourselves in patience—as well as fearlessness, not letting anxiety overwhelm us, but praying that the Lord increase in us faithful perseverance and godliness. (from St Leo the Great Epiphany sermon, paraphrased)
In this way, we offer such sacrifices to God as are well-pleasing. And, above all else, we will increase our joy on this glorious feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ; to whom, with His Faither, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: world without end.