Epiphany: The Public Revelation of the Savior of the World
Before the invention of satellites or digital compasses and the Global Positioning System, travelers, navigators and mariners looked to the stars for guidance. The Gospel of Matthew tells us about one particular star, the Star of Bethlehem, which pointed to the Lord Jesus and guided the Magi from the East (Mt. 2:1-2, 9-11). Following the star, the Magi found their way to the place where the infant Jesus lay. They fell to their knees, worshiped him and offered him gifts.
The Solemnity of the Epiphany, which we celebrate this year on January 4, is the feast that represents the completion of the Christmas story. It celebrates the manifestation of the newborn Christ as Savior of the world and commemorates the public revelation that Jesus – God with us – came not only for the chosen people, the Jews, but for all peoples of the world.
The shepherds were Jews, the people Israel whom God had called throughout salvation history. The Magi were Gentiles. God saw that they too were seeking a higher wisdom, so he called them from afar as well to find salvation. As the Magi and shepherds before them each approached the Child and his mother, they represented all the peoples of the world. They received the Good News, the Gospel, on our behalf. Here is seen the universality of the Church, the Church’s inclusion of all peoples.
“Epiphany” comes from the Greek word for “showing” or “manifestation.” Without a showing, without a manifestation, Jesus could have gone through life without being recognized as God’s Son – and therefore, without accomplishing his goal. For Christ to have an effect in the world – in our neighborhoods, in our cities, in our lives – he has to be recognized. For Christ to be recognized, he has to be manifested. This is why Epiphany and our remembrance of it are so important.
For 2,000 years, it has been the work of the Church, of all of us, every member of the Body of Christ, to show forth the presence of Jesus Christ our Savior and King, one of us who is also the Son of God. This showing takes place in many ways.
Just as there are countless stars in the sky that form all kinds of constellations, so too are there many, many holy lives, many kinds of dedicated people, women and men, disciples of Jesus, who replicate the work of the great Star of Bethlehem. The Church continues to rely on that constellation of stars to manifest Jesus today and to lead people to him.
Who are the lights that manifest the kingdom of God for all to see? They are ordinary people who are doing the work of the kingdom in the places they find themselves, shining Christ’s light in their homes, their communities, and in our parishes, schools and Catholic ministries. They form a great constellation that manifests the kingdom of God in today’s world.
When the Magi found the Child Jesus, they presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Every person in the Church, each member of the heavenly constellation, has rich gifts to offer: your talents are yours, given by God, and the same is true of your time, your energy, and above all else, your love. These are your own personal gifts of “gold, frankincense and myrrh” to give, and only you can give them.
Pope Francis titled his first encyclical Lumen Fidei – Latin for “The Light of Faith” – and he said that light “is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence.” Faith, he said, “becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time” (Lumen Fidei, 4).
Just as Jesus came to be known in their homage and in the gifts that were given by the three Magi, so he becomes known and more clearly visible because of your presence, your gifts, your witness. Like the Star of Bethlehem once guided the Magi in the night sky, the light of your faith, and of your love, can lead others to Jesus, and this “epiphany” can transform their hearts and their lives.
This blog post is adapted from the book that Mike Aquilina and I wrote, “The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics” (2014).