Reading I (Isaiah 60:1-6) Reading II (Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6)
Gospel (St. Matthew 2:1-12)
The feast we celebrate today of the Epiphany was one of the most important feast days in the ancient Church year. The reason for that is one that we tend to take for granted. It is made very clear in the second reading today, that is, the mystery has been revealed. And the mystery that was revealed was demonstrated in a very particular way through the feast we celebrate today, that is, the Gentiles are now coheirs with the Jews, members of the same body, they are heirs of eternal life, and they are brought into one with Jesus Christ. Saint Paul tells us this is something that was made known to him by a revelation.
For the Jewish people, of course, we understand that they were the chosen people of God, and they understood fully well that they were the means to salvation. But there were also a number of prophetic statements of the Old Testament talking about the fact that there would be a new covenant and that the Gentiles would become one with the Jews. More than likely, the average Jewish person reading this would have assumed that meant the Gentiles would become Jewish. But, in fact, we can look at it now in Christ and see that is not what it meant at all; there was something entirely new. This is precisely what Our Lord talks about when He says, for instance: No one takes a new piece of cloth and sews it on to an old coat, and, No one puts new wine into old wine skins. In fact, it is something that must be entirely different, something new. It builds upon what was there of old because God’s truth does not change, but it fulfills everything of old.
So what Saint Paul and the other apostles would not realize for many years to come was revealed in a very profound way in Our Lord’s birth, that here we have the pagan nations, the Gentiles (the word Gentile, by the way, means “nation,” so it is every nation that is not Israel; anyone who was not Jewish was considered a Gentile; it is all the people of the nations), the representatives of various nations coming to give homage to Christ. In fact, the word in the Gospel that is translated as homage is actually the word worship in Greek. They worshipped Him. We are told in the Gospel that they prostrated themselves and they worshipped Him.
Now contrast that with what we see in the Gospel reading about Jerusalem. We are told that King Herod and all Jerusalem with him were afraid. They trembled at the news that the Messiah was born. Why would that happen? What we celebrate today goes rather contrary to what we heard in the first reading. We heard: Darkness covers the earth and thick clouds the peoples; but upon you, Jerusalem, the Lord will dawn and in you His radiance will be revealed. The people of Jerusalem were the ones who were to be enlightened. They had the truth. They had the prophets. They had the Scriptures and everything that was contained within. But what happened in ancient Jerusalem is tragically similar to what is happening throughout the world right now, but we just have to look around our own backyard here, and we have to say that the darkness covers and the thick clouds have enveloped the people. Just ask yourself right now: If Jesus were to be born into our world, not coming in glory again, but what if He were to be born into our world today, to come in a very hidden form? How many people do you know in your neighborhood, in your office, even perhaps in your own home, who would rejoice that the Light has come into the darkness? The tragedy is people of our day have chosen the darkness. They like it because evil deeds are done in darkness, but those that are good are brought into the light. So in our world filled with corruption, selfishness, and all kinds of unfortunate things, people just like of old have chosen the darkness over the light. And I do not think it takes a genius to be able to recognize that it is getting darker. But that is okay because the darker something is, the brighter the light shines within it.
Now if people like it dark, they do not want the light to shine, which is why they are going to give you all kinds of trouble if you are doing what Christ told you to do, that is, to be the light of the world, to go out into the darkness and bring the light of Christ into the world. Because unlike what happened two thousand years ago, where Our Lord was born in human form and was revealed to the nations through a star, today He wants to be revealed through us. He wants us to be like that guiding star to bring people to Him, to point the way beyond ourselves to Christ Himself. That is the task that is given to each and every one of us.
We can understand, perhaps, a little bit of the reaction of the people of Jerusalem. For many of us, perhaps the thought of going out into the world and bringing Christ into the world, living our faith out in this world of darkness, being truly Catholic in this neopagan society in which we live, brings a little bit of trembling into our heart. The trembling is in people who claim that they know and love Jesus. What about people who did not know and love Him? They were awaiting His arrival, but they did not know Him yet; consequently, they were not able to love Him. They were not sure what was going to happen to their way of life and they were afraid.
We know what is supposed to happen to our way of life. We are supposed to overcome sin and we are to live as children of the light. We are to live holy lives. Still, we tremble at the thought of having to change our lives in order to live them for Christ. How many of us have chosen to live like the pagans around us, just so that we fit in? Isn’t it interesting that the people of the promise trembled in fear when they heard about the Messiah being born? But the pagans came and prostrated themselves and worshipped Him. What about us? Are we willing to bow down before Him, not just on Sunday morning, not just when we receive Holy Communion, but are we willing to live our lives that way? Are we truly willing to live our lives for Christ?
The word epiphany means a “manifestation.” Our Lord has made Himself manifest to the nations, and He has made Himself manifest to each and every one of us. There is not one single person who can say that Our Lord has not made Himself clear. I am not saying that He has somehow appeared in some extraordinary form, because in most of us, thanks be to God, that has not happened – and do not pray that it does. But we know Him. He is right here in the Blessed Sacrament, and He has made Himself manifest to us. We have the fullness of truth regarding Christ.
In the ancient world, there were actually three feasts that were celebrated today – the Epiphany, the Baptism of Our Lord, and the Wedding Feast at Cana – because these were three things that manifested the true divinity of Christ. The pagans recognized Who He was and bowed down and worshipped Him; the Holy Spirit descended upon Him and the voice of the Father was heard saying, You are My beloved Son, on you My favor rests; and in the wedding at Cana, the first of His miracles where His apostles began to believe in Him and He manifested Himself at the beginning of His public life.
Now we have the fullness of the Gospel; we have the fullness of truth given to us. The manifestation of Christ is truly present within the hearts and souls
of every single one of us. If that is the case, then we have to ask ourselves: Is Christ being manifest now through us? He has been made manifest to us, is He being made manifest through us to others? That is what He is looking for. When Our Lord was brought to the temple by His mother, Simeon took Him in his arms and proclaimed that He is the light to the nations and that through Him we have the revelation of God. What Simeon recognized in the humanity of Christ was His divinity shining through. Our Lord desires that we would do the same, that we will recognize Him hidden in the Blessed Sacrament, but also hidden within each one of us. If we are in the state of grace, remember that the Holy Trinity dwells within. All three persons of God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – dwell inside of each one of us as in a temple. And He desires that we would bring Him out into the world and make Him manifest, a light of revelation to the nations.
Again, if you think about it and you look at yourself and think, “Well, I’m really not shining too terribly brightly for the Lord,” then rejoice all the more that the darkness is becoming so much worse, because even the dimmest bulb shines rather brightly in great darkness. But we need to make sure we continue to try to increase the brightness that is there, that we develop the holiness and the prayer life, that we seek true union with Christ. The times in which we are living should certainly be clear to anyone of faith. They are extraordinary times, certainly times of extraordinary evil – never in the history of the world has there been such an evil day. If you think about that from past events, the Flood came at the time of Noah because of the evil that was present in the world. Back in the late 1950’s, Pope Pius XII said that we live in the most sinful society that history has ever known. That was in the 1950’s. And so if that is the case, things are far worse now. We need to make sure we are living our faith. We need to make sure we are not giving way to the darkness to become like everyone else. We need to make sure we are not compromising our commitment to Jesus Christ, because in the midst of such an evil time we know there are going to be extraordinary things that are going to be happening, and each and every one of us needs to be prepared for that. We know not the day nor the hour, and it does not matter when. All that matters is that we are found watching and ready.
We need to learn from these three truly Wise Men of old. They watched in the darkness for a bright star. In the darkness of this world, we need to keep our eyes on He Who is the Light of the world. And from His light, we need to be enlightened so that we can go out into the darkness and the light of faith will brighten the path upon which we are to walk. We are to recognize Christ in the midst of this darkness, and we are to prostrate ourselves before Him and we are to worship Him. There is no need for fear. There is no need for trembling. But rather, as is said of the ancient Jerusalem so it is said of the New Jerusalem: You will be radiant at what you see. That is what Jesus wants from us: to see His extreme and ultimate radiance, the light of God, the light of truth, the light of love shining forth from the Blessed Sacrament and shining forth from within us, that we too will be radiant, that we too will be filled with His grace so we will bring God, Who is truth and Who is love, out into the world of darkness, of hatred, and of lies; and that the mystery that was revealed and is celebrated today will continue to be revealed and celebrated; that even those who have chosen to live a pagan life in this world will be able to see the true light and they will come to Jesus Christ, and they too will prostrate themselves and worship Him.
But before that happens, it needs to happen in us. We rejoice when there are conversions. We rejoice when people see the light. But how often we are put to shame by the way these people live their lives. They have seen the truth and they have changed their lives to conform to the truth, whereas so many of us continue to try to compromise the truth, to be mediocre Catholics, and to find a way to let the darkness attempt to cover the light. We cannot do that any longer. The Wise Men were smart enough to look to the light in the darkness. We live in a day where darkness covers the earth and thick clouds cover the people, but there is a brilliant star that shines in the darkness. If we have any wisdom about us at all, we should be able to see that star – Who is Jesus Christ – shining in the darkness and to follow that star, to keep our eyes fixed upon it until we find Him, we unite ourselves with Him, and we bow down before Him and worship Him.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.