The Epiphany of the Light of Nations

"The Nativity" by Rhoden Franz Geburt Christi

The Solemnity that we celebrate today is called Epiphany, but this is actually the first of three epiphanies, or manifestations of the Lord, that the Church recognizes over successive Sundays.  Next Sunday, we will celebrate the manifestation of the Lord in His Baptism and then, the following week, His manifestation at the Wedding at Cana.  For Jesus to have an effect in people’s lives, He has to be recognized. For Him to be recognized, He has to be manifested.

This Sunday, however, we celebrate the epiphany to the Magi, who, upon arriving from the east, asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage” (Mt 2:1-12).

The magi (magoi in Greek) were, in general, sages and astrologers from Persia.  If the lowly shepherds who came to see the Infant Jesus on Christmas morning are representative of the people of Israel, then the Magi who came to see Him are representative of the Gentiles, that is to say, all the peoples of the world.

The Magi who prostrated themselves before the Lord are also called “the Wise Men,” but just as people in the world are different, so too are the magi – there are others described in scripture and they are not wise.  These magi were also enchanters and seducers, preying upon people’s superstitions, including Bar-Jesus, a magician and deceiver, whom St. Paul called the son of the devil and enemy of all that is right (Acts 13:6-10), and Simon Magus, who after he had been baptized, fell into the bonds of iniquity, offering money to the Apostles to gain the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:9-23).

In our continuing meditation on the New Evangelization, we can see that history’s magi as a whole are reflective of today’s society at large.  “The ambivalence of the concept of Magi that we find here illustrates the ambivalence of religion in general,” observes Pope Benedict in his recent book, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.  Personal belief “can become the path to true knowledge, the path to Jesus Christ.  But when it fails, in his presence, to open up to him and actually opposes the one God and Savior, it becomes demonic and destructive.”

The Magi who came seeking the newborn King were wise because they were authentic searchers for truth.  They were not closed-in on themselves, but were open to revelation and divine calls.  They understood that the bright Star in the sky was a sign of something great, a light for them to follow.  And after their joyous encounter with the Christ, their lives were changed, they could not proceed on the same road by which they had come.

We too are called to be wise men and wise women.  The Light of Bethlehem beckons us to follow, to leave our self-enclosed lives behind as we go out to meet the Lord and do Him homage.  Perhaps during this Year of Faith, you might follow that Light to one of the nine pilgrimage churches within the Archdiocese.

Others had seen the light of the Star, but they had not understood, and there were many who took no notice at all of the Light shining in the darkness, just as many had not realized while Jesus was growing up that God was amongst them (cf. Jn 1:9-10).  One of the major difficulties in our world today is this failure of people, collectively, societally, culturally, socially, to recognize God in their lives.  There is a much diminished recognition that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus is the source of goodness, light and truth.

Hence the great need for us all to replicate the work of that Great Star of Bethlehem and help people be enlightened by its message.  Moreover, the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ, Light of the nations,

is not an optional contribution for the Church. It is the duty incumbent on her by the command of the Lord Jesus, so that people can believe and be saved. This message is indeed necessary. It is unique. It cannot be replaced. It does not permit either indifference, syncretism or accommodation. It is a question of people’s salvation  (Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 5).

This work of evangelization must never remain on the margins of our personal lives. The Church relies on an entire constellation of stars – every member of the Body of Christ – to provide society with an epiphany, a manifestation of the Lord, so that people might encounter Him and be saved.  By allowing His Light to shine through us, bearing witness to Him while proceeding along the new road of truth and love, we do the newborn King homage and can help transform the world.