Reflection on the Epiphany of the Lord
In our current liturgical cycle there are four manifestations of the Christ in the Sunday readings. The first revelation was on Christmas Day to the shepherds — the simple and humble keepers of sheep, God’s preferential option for the poor. The second is today’s account in which the good news is shared with the gentiles, personified by The Three Kings. This was not an expectation of the Jewish people by any means. They were the chosen people, not the Gentiles. The third manifestation will be on Jan. 15 when Jesus presents himself for baptism and is proclaimed as the one who is to come by John the Baptist. Finally, Jesus himself reveals his unique status by changing water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. However, we are in Cycle A of the three Sunday Cycles and that event does not appear this year but we will hear it on the second Sunday in Ordinary Time in Cycle C.
Looking at today’s Gospel, the coming of the Magi, we wonder who these three mysterious persons were and why we assume there were three of them? The truth is, we don’t know who they were. We have assumed that they were from the east, perhaps Persia, because they studied and understood the stars –- they were astrologers — an interest most common in the east. Also, there were three gifts, hence three presenters. The gifts themselves have been given significance: gold, representing the kingship of Jesus, since it was the offering of the priests in the temple, frankincense, pointing to his divinity, and the myrrh, a substance used to prepare a body for burial, looking toward the tragic way in which he would die.
How did they know this infant was born to be the king of the Jews? Who knows? Whatever revelation they had they knew to follow the star, and they were wise enough to protect him from Herod.
Have you ever wondered what they thought as they gazed at this child who was definitely not a member of a royal family nor an obvious candidate for king of the Jews. Instead, they saw a child born among the poorest of the poor. A future king, destined to bring Israel back to glory, free of Roman domination — how could that possibly happen in these circumstances? Nonetheless, they offered their gifts and homage.
What do we believe as we gaze on this infant? In his 2021 Christmas Eve homily, Pope Francis included a meditation on the infant that I found very thought-provoking, and I would like to share it with you. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine that you are with Mary and Joseph in that humble manger and that Mary hands you the baby to hold in your arms. This is the reflection Pope Francis proposes as one gazes down at that tiny bit of humanity resting helplessly in their arms: (I will deliberately pause after each phrase to give you time to reflect on it.)
“Baby Jesus, you are God, the God who becomes a child.
The one who embraces the universe needs to be held in
The One who created the sun needs to be warmed.
Tenderness incarnate needs to be coddled.
Infinite love has a miniscule heart that beats softly.
The eternal Word is an infant, a speechless child.
The Bread of Life needs to be nourished.
The Creator of the world has no home.
Today all is turned upside down. God comes into the world in littleness.
His grandeur appears in littleness.”
– Pope Francis
We have learned through God’s revelation much more about that tiny infant over the centuries, certainly more than The Three Kings would have ever suspected. It is a lot to take in. It requires faith. It requires prayer. We will never fully understand. What we do know, though, is to live in the way this child has taught us — simply, thoughtfully, lovingly, caring about the suffering of others and helping them in whatever way we can. We are not rich, but we can use our voices, our pens, our vote and our prayer to advocate for others because when we look at the infant Jesus, we see the poor, the homeless, the refugee, the hungry and the hopeless who are loved by our God and who need our love as well.