Epiphany of the Lord
Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
What has been made known? That's what an epiphany is – the event, the moment when the unknown is made known. When the obscured is clarified. The Magi find the Christ Child in Bethlehem; pay him homage as their King; and gift him with treasures proper to his station. What do their visit and their gifts make known to us? Paul shares the Magi's revelation with the Ephesians: “...the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” He adds, “[This mystery] was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed...” For centuries, the Jews waited for the arrival of the Messiah. He was their Savior, their long-promised salvation from sin and death. Even after Christ's birth and the start of his public ministry, even after his sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the dead, some still held to the cherished belief that the Messiah came to save the Jews and them alone. The Magi – priests and astrologers from the East, Gentiles to their bones – reveal a different mission for the Christ Child: he comes to save us all. Gentiles and Jews alike.
The Magi – knowing who and what the Christ Child is – prostrate themselves and open their treasures to him. Having submitted themselves to his kingly rule, they depart, leaving Herod to wonder where his potential rival for royal authority rests. Now, with Baby Jesus napping in Bethlehem and Herod fuming in Jerusalem, all of humanity is thrown into the daily existential drama of choosing a King. To whom do we submit? A prince of this world? Or the Prince of Peace? A temporary king in a temporary kingdom? Or the eternal King of the whole universe? Herod will go on to reveal the corruption at the heart of his kingdom. He will order the slaughter of all male children two years old and younger. He will sacrifice the lives of babies for his power but move not one inch to sacrifice himself for the sake of another. Christ too will go on to reveal the majesty and power of his Father's Kingdom. He will sacrifice himself for our sake, giving his life – human and divine – on the Cross for the salvation of his people. The epiphany shows us that Gentile and Jew alike can be saved by the Christ. It also shows us how to live in a world ruled by Herods. What must we do?
Remember who you are! You are members of the Body of Christ. You are coheirs to the Father's Kingdom. You are partners in the mission and ministry of Christ Jesus. Two thousand years ago, the Word became flesh and lived and moved among us. At your baptism, you too became the Word made flesh. You live and move and have your being in the Word. Who you are is the Word. Incorporated into the Body, you inherit a kingdom and become a partner in that kingdom's rule. You have chosen Christ as your King. Yet! Herod rules the world. And we know that we cannot serve two Masters. So, we live in the rule of a Herod but under the rule of Christ. To accomplish this exhausting task, we are given – weekly, even daily – the Body and Blood of our King to sustain us. We are given him who saves us, strengthens us, blesses us, and brings us to our perfection in him. Remember who you are. And remember what you have vowed to do. The Magi revealed the Christ to us. Now it's our turn to reveal the Christ to the world. With every thought, word, and deed, wherever you happen to be, whatever you happen to be doing – reveal Christ as your King. Show his mercy. Show his love. Repeat his offer of salvation from sin and death. Make him known. You are given the strength and courage to accomplish this. Do it!
This Mass will end like every other Mass you've ever attended – with a final blessing and a dismissal. These two small bits of liturgical action signal to most that it's almost time to head home for lunch/dinner and catch a football game on TV. But if you pay attention, you'll hear and experience something more profound than an ending. You'll hear and experience a beginning. The final blessing grants you God's favor and lifts you up in your pursuit of holiness. It sets you apart from the world, consecrating you to a specific purpose: to be Christ in the world. So consecrated, you are dismissed, sent out. You are given a charge, an order for your work as a Christ. The last words you hear exhort you take what you have received in this Mass and share it with the world. We find comfort in the regularity of the liturgy – the predictability of the responses; the order of the rites. We find strength and courage in the readings and in knowing that Christ is truly present on the altar. We may even enjoy the fellowship we find here. But we were not saved from sin and death to live comfortable lives in a church building. We were saved to be sent out. We were saved to be bearers of the Good News.