Homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, Year C 2018
Dear friends, as we gather to celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, let’s take a moment and reflect on the mystery of His self-disclosure or manifestation. Let’s begin by looking at what is a mystery. A mystery is that concrete “something”: an experience, an object, a person, a word that bombards us and gradually brings us into contact with the divine reality.
I wonder why God always uses what is familiar to us, what is near us, in fact what we know too well but often take for granted to reveal Himself. At Egypt, it was the Red Sea, the pillar of cloud. At Sinai, it was the peals of thunder, lightning, a dense cloud, very loud trumpet blasts and smoke… always something concrete, something familiar. At Bethlehem, it was a child, a real person we could touch, feel, carry and love.
But in the ordinariness of the something, there is a restlessness, a hunger to know more, to transcend, to reach the One hidden in all the banalities of life. It was that restlessness that sets the wise men from the East on a journey to enquire about the star. They saw a star. A star they knew well. A star they recognised as more than ordinary. One that led them to question, to wonder, to rise, to let go all their knowing and expertise, and once again learn what it meant.
It is fascinating to note that this star was seen by a people living under the cover of darkness. The darkness of an “outsider”, for they were non-Jews, as such they were a people outside of God’s covenant and blessing. They were a people rejected by the chosen people. They were involved in pagan worship. Again, God disappointed the expectations of the righteous Jews. He went for the weak, the anawim, the outsiders in order to make them "insiders".
Isaiah in the First Reading wrote with this background in mind. He wrote to a people who were returning from exile. A people who had known what it feels like to be outsiders in the lands where they were taken captive. So, he consoled them by urging them, “Arise, shine out Jerusalem, for your light has come…” Notice the word light. Christ is that light that has come.
Saint Paul in the Second Reading from Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6 states that the prophecy of Isaiah 60:1-6, isn’t just meant for the Israelites. It is also for the pagans, the Gentiles, the Christians. Christ the light has come. He has come to reveal that “pagans now share the same inheritance, that they are parts of the same body, and that the same promise has been made to them, in Christ Jesus, through the Gospel”. This is the crux – God’s light has shone on the whole world.
But His light doesn’t just shine to reveal Himself and His promises to us. He shines to lead us so that we may follow Him, find Him and then worship Him. In other words, the light isn’t just about God’s self-disclosure, it also about our own self-disclosure which is expressed in worship. In worship we reveal who we have become through our encounter with the light. We see this in the gifts presented by the wise men. For true worship comes from true knowledge.
But true knowledge doesn’t automatically translate into true worship. It has to be received in the spirit of wonder, the spirit that hungers for more, for right relationship with the source of all knowledge, God. It is this hunger that differentiates the wise men from Herod’s chief priests and the scribes. While the wise men kept following the star, Herod’s men remain adamant. Herod’s men thought they knew it all. They didn’t need to go where the light was leading.
Are Herod’s men any different from those who think they know it all as such have no need for God? However, Matthew 2:1-12 reveals that we need God, the light of Christ. For our knowing isn’t knowledge for knowledge sake. It is always a knowing that needs to be enlightened; a knowing that leads us out of ourselves to the truth; a knowing that leads us to open our treasures, our heart so that we can present to God all that we have come to know and become.
For instance, the wise men offered Gold because they know the Christ Child as the King who has come to set His people free. The King whose kingdom has no boundaries. The King who will lead all people on earth not just to our temporal good but also to our eternal good. They offered Him frankincense because they recognised, He is not just human. He is God, worthy of our worship. Finally, they offered Him myrrh because He is to suffer and die as a true man.
So, there are three lessons we can take home from today’s Solemnity of the Epiphany. First, it is God who searches for us. He uses concrete things like a star to capture our imagination and then lead us to Himself. Second, our knowledge, be it scientific knowledge or philosophical knowledge needs to be enlightened by Christ the light. Thus, we, like the wise men may need to stop by our religious leaders to enquire about the star, that concrete something we have seen.
Finally, all our knowledge should lead us to worship, to pay homage to Him who is the source of all knowledge. For any knowledge that doesn’t lead to the worship of the true God, is knowledge that can dehumanise us, it can leave us bereft of our oneness as human beings. So, let’s follow our own concrete something, experience or person with wonder that leads to worship.
Fr. Francis Afu