CHRIST WAS BORN FOR ALL
HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD. Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3. 5-6 and Matthew 2:1-12.
“All nations on earth shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord” (Psalm 72:11). Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord. Epiphany is from the Greek word, epipháneia, which simply means manifestation, and in this case, God’s manifestation to humanity. This is well expressed in the liturgy of today as the Magi represent the whole human race, that is, the peoples of all languages and colours, races and nations, all called to adore Christ the new born King.
Epiphany is the manifestation of God’s light and glory to the world. Christ rightly said, “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). He is the Saviour of the world. So this solemnity establishes Jesus Christ as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. In view of this, the Psalmist today says, “The kings of Tarshish and islands shall pay him tribute. The kings of Sheba and Seba shall bring him gifts. Before him all kings shall fall prostrate, all nations shall serve him.” In accordance with this, Phil 2:10 says, “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” This is exactly what the Magi did in today’s Gospel; they worshipped the child in adoration.
In the Gospel, Matthew contrasts Herod and the Magi. There are two Herods in the Gospel narratives. Herod the Great, who appeared at the beginning of the reading and Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who appeared towards the end of the Gospel when Jesus was born, and who ruled throughout the time of the ministry of Christ. The Wise Men were warned not to return to Herod Antipas. He was the one who married the brother’s wife and beheaded John the Baptist for condemning his union with Herodias (Mt 14:1-12). Herod the Great was a great builder, he built an aqueduct for the dried city of Jerusalem, large section of the walls of Jerusalem, fortification of Jerusalem and he rebuilt the temple of Jerusalem. He was jealous for his throne and killed anyone whom he saw as a potential threat or rival. He killed his own wife, and when the mother complained, he executed her as well. He is the same Herod who killed the Holy Innocents.
The Magi on the other hand were the priestly caste of Persia, the modern-day Iran, who devoted themselves to religion and the study of science which in those days was referred to as the study of the stars. They were thought to announce the birth of important people and when they saw the star, they went in search of the newborn King. It became important because they were non-Jewish people; they were pagans. Invariably, the King was born for both Jews and Gentiles; Christ was born for all. Legend tells us that their names were: Mel-choir, Caspar and Balthasar. Their gifts were: Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, which symbolize the Kingship of Christ, his divinity and humanity.
The gifts of the Magi fulfilled the Psalm of today, which foretold the arrival of kings bringing gifts to the King. It also fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah as seen in the first reading of today, “…they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar… your heart shall trill and rejoice… They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.” Those coming from afar are referred to as the Gentile nations who have seen the Great and Glorious Light over Israel and have come to pay homage with their treasures of Gold and Frankincense. This is not earthly light; this Light emanates from the glory of the Lord. This is the light of Jesus in the Transfiguration, when His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light (Mt 7:2). This is the light of salvation, the light Isaiah foretold saying, “Arise, shine; for your light has come…”
Interestingly, Mathew presents to us on a sad note that his people (the Jews) did not know when their salvation was at hand, neither did they see the brightness of this light of Christ. On the other hand, foreigners who were of non-Jewish origin, known as pagans/Gentiles, recognized the presence of the Messiah in their midst. In view of this, St. Paul in the second reading described the mystery revealed to him, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations. The mystery of how the Gentiles are now fellow heirs, members of the same body of Christ, members of one Church, no longer separated before God as such. The Gentiles are now partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.
In a nutshell, let us learn to seek or search for God like the Magi and let our search for God be sincere and constant. That we have received the sacraments as Catholics is not enough, but a continuous search for God no matter the distance is what it takes to reach Him. On finding God, let us respond with all we are and have; let us respond with the gift of generosity as God is generous to us in giving us His Son. The wise men were generous to the Son with their gifts. Let us do same irrespective of tribe, language or ethnicity. Christ was born for all. Let this celebration foster unity among us, and when we do this, we will become wise like the Magi, directed by the divine navigator to move towards Christ and not to return to Herod Antipas or return to sin but to continue to walk in light of Christ. Peace be with you!
Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ