Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord. While sometimes overshadowed by Christmas, the Epiphany is a very significant event in salvation history as God’s plan is revealed to show Jesus as the King of the entire universe – not just the Messiah for the Jewish people. The Magi are pagans, yet God reaches out to them through one of His angels to announce the birth of Christ. This represents the calling of not only the Jews, but of all nations to follow Christ. What a tremendous message and one that we as Catholics must continue to live and preach to “all the ends of the earth.”
This week’s Gospel is from Matthew 2:1-12:
“When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”
When King Herod heard this,
he was greatly troubled,
and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people,
He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea,
for thus it has been written through the prophet:
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod called the magi secretly
and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said,
“Go and search diligently for the child.
When you have found him, bring me word,
that I too may go and do him homage.”
After their audience with the king they set out.
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
Then they opened their treasures
and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country by another way.”
I found the symbolism of the royal gifts (gold, frankincense, and myrrh) as particularly interesting. The first gift for the newly born King is Gold. Gold represents Divinity and Kingship. This is a recognition from the wise men that Jesus was fully God. There is also the symbolism here that we are also to give “gifts” to God and one of those “gifts” is to commit our lives to Jesus and the Gospel. The second gift is Frankincense. Frankincense represents the prayers of the saints and the people, flowing up to God as a pleasing aroma. The gift of Frankincense to the newly born King symbolizes his priesthood. Jesus provided us a path back to God so our sins would be forgiven. The third gift was myrrh. In today’s first reading from Isiah, myrrh was not mentioned – only gold and frankincense. Myrrh is most frequently used as an embalming spice in biblical times. It is most frequently associated with suffering and death and symbolized the Passion and ultimate death of our Savior on the cross at Calvary. In a similar way we are to “die” with Jesus from our sinful ways and “rise” with him to new life.
I know I have “overlooked” the importance of the Feast of the Epiphany in the past. I just associated this feast with the Epiphany Pageant every church has on this day. Clearly there is significantly more meaning to the Epiphany so let’s celebrate this feast as God’s true message is revealed to us all – that Jesus is the King to ALL people and He leads us back to God so that our sins are forgiven.