For Jesus Christ to have an effect in our lives, he has to be recognized. For him to the recognized he has to be manifested. This truth is at the heart of the celebration of the feast of Epiphany, which is traditionally observed in the Church Universal on January 6, but which is celebrated liturgically in the United States on the Sunday that falls between January 2 and 8.
While the traditional date of this feast day functions as the twelfth and final day of the Christmas season, it also reminds us that we do not simply celebrate Christmas to remember the birth of Christ, but to renew our commitment as followers of Jesus, to manifest Christ to those around us in the way we speak and act as we move through each day.
The Greek word “epiphaneia” is translated in multiple ways, as manifestation, showing or epiphany. The Church recognizes and celebrates three distinct manifestations of the Lord: the Epiphany to the Magi, also known as the three kings; the Baptism of the Lord when the Spirit visibly overshadowed him; and at Cana, when Jesus in a wedding worked the first miracle, changing the water into wine. What each of the manifestations tells us is that without an epiphany, without a showing, without a manifestation, Jesus easily could have gone through life without being recognized as God’s Son and, therefore, without accomplishing his goal.
Had the three kings not been faithful to following the Star into unfamiliar territory and a most unlikely destination, the news of Jesus’ birth may not have spread so far and wide so immediately. Today, it seems this same kind of threat still exists. It is getting harder and harder for people to hear the story of God’s love for them and for the world.
One of the major difficulties in our world today is this failure, individually and collectively, culturally and socially, of people to recognize the place of God in their lives. We face the same temptations, have the same human nature and recognize the same challenges as every generation before us. Today, however, there is much less a sense of objective goodness and rightness in the world because there is a much diminished recognition that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus is the source of mercy, light and truth.
Beginning with the Magi and extending to us, for two millennia, it has been the work of the Church, all of us, every member of the Body of Christ, to show forth to the world the presence of Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord, one of us who is also the Son of God. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis asks us specifically to reflect on how we manifest the merciful face of Christ to the world.
How and with whom would your sharing your experience of receiving God’s mercy and sharing be an experience of hearing good news? The Year of Mercy is giving us an opportunity to put into words what we know about loving tender compassion through our own experience in prayer, in the Eucharist and in the sacrament of Reconciliation. If you would like some help thinking through the three-fold experience of mercy – needing mercy, receiving mercy and sharing mercy – visit mercy.adw.org to read your fellow Catholic’s story of mercy.
Jesus needed the three kings to take up the story of his birth and to tell the world of it – to manifest his presence to the world. Jesus needs you and me and the Church to do the same – to manifest his presence, to be a light for others drawing them to an encounter with Jesus Christ.