The Epiphany of the Lord
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Gift-giving in my family during the holidays is ever the practical art. Rarely do any of us receive sentimental gifts or anything merely decorative. We get “what we need.” I'm the easiest to shop for. CASH. Always the right color. One size fits all. Another example, over the years, my dad has given Mom as Christmas gifts – renovated bathrooms; fiber-cement siding for the house; and demolished a fireplace they never used. Mom was always genuinely delighted with these gifts. Had the three magi showed up in Mississippi and given Mom frankincense, gold, and myrrh she would've thanked them politely and then found a way to sell the stuff so she could replace her washer and dryer. Now, there's nothing particularly wrong with giving practical gifts. Gifts tell us something important about both the gift-giver and the gift-recipient. We know that the magi give the Christ Child frankincense, gold, and myrrh b/c they recognize him as the newly born King of the nations. Their treasures, and their homage tell us that they see him for who he is: the universal Savior. When we give our gifts to Christ we are also recognizing him as our Savior. But here's the thing: we belong to Christ. Everything we have already belongs to Christ. So, what's the point in giving him gifts? Gift-giving unveils the mystery of salvation.
Bear with me here. Paul explains to the Ephesians what the Magi's visit to the Christ Child means: “. . .the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” That is, when we hear and receive the gift of the gospel – given to us by Christ and his apostles – we become members of the Body, the Church, and coheirs to the Kingdom. With the birth of Christ, salvation is no longer exclusive to the Father's chosen people, the Jews. Everyone else – the Gentiles – can now be part of the family of God too. God's family is catholic (universal) b/c the Magi (who were Gentiles) paid homage to Christ and gave him the gifts that a king would receive. This is the epiphany we celebrate this morning, the revelation that anyone and everyone can be a coheir to the Kingdom. The gifts of the Magi unveil the mystery of Christ's sacrifice – his own gift to us – and make manifest the truth that no one is excluded from the possibility of redemption. If you will to be a coheir, you will be a coheir. Christ's gift from the cross and the empty tomb is the primordial gift of re-creation – we can be made new in him.
So, what does any of this have to do with giving gifts to Christ? If Christ's gift to us is the primordial gift of re-creation, then – as new men and women in Christ – everything we are and everything we have belongs to him. When we return our gifts to Christ – the much mentioned time, talent, and treasure – we participate in a holy exchange that expresses our gratitude, deepens our humility, and prepares us to better receive those gifts from God we have yet to receive. In other words, we become pipelines that pump God's love and mercy into the world, unveiling again and again and again the mystery of salvation: anyone and everyone can be a coheir to the Kingdom. Our faith is essentially an exchange of gifts – a cycle of giving, receiving, expressing thanksgiving, growing in humility, being ready to receive more and more gifts from God, and all the while freely giving His gifts away so that His Christ might be better known to the whole world!
The lesson of the Magi and their epiphany reveals to us how we can renew the Church, bring her back from exile as a glorious nation of priests, prophets, and kings. To the degree that we have grown comfortable and complacent, we must once again become anxious for the salvation of souls. To the degree that we have grown mean and stingy with our gifts, we must once again become generous. To the degree that we have grown distant from God, apathetic toward sin, and proud of our religiosity, we must grow in gratitude and humility, acknowledging our faults and freely receiving God's mercy. The Church will be brought out of exile one soul at a time. The Magi show us the way. Bring gifts to Christ. Pay him homage. Give yourself in the world as a grace, a witness to the One Gift of Christ's love from the cross.
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