Traditionally, and according to the Gregorian Calendar, on January 6 we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Eastern lung of Christianity the Epiphany is also known as theophany, since it is a feast which celebrates the revelation (theophany), of God incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ.
In the Western lung of Christianity, the epiphany reminds us of the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. Hence, we can say that the epiphany is Jesus’ tangible manifestation to the Gentiles. Some tend dubb this feast as Three King’ Day. In other christian traditions, like the one in Ireland, the epiphany was also called the Little Christmas or Old Christmas. The latter appellations are common among Irish and Amish Christians. This feast marks the conclusion of the twelve days of Christmastide.
This theophanic feast offers us certain spiritual reflections which really help us delve deeper into the mystery of the incarnation. St John Chrysostom (347-407) an eminent Father of the Church, says: If we approach with faith, we too will see Jesus….; for the Eucharistic table takes the place of the crib. Here the Body of the Lord is present, wrapped not in swaddling clothes but in the rays of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the epiphany is prelude to the Eucharist!
For St Augustine of Hippo (354-430), himself a Father of the Church, epiphany enfleshes truth through a woman, Mary. He writes: Truth, by which the world is held together, has sprung from the earth, in order to be carried in a woman’s arms. With St Peter Chrysologus (380-450), a doctor of the Church, the epiphany introduces the gaze of a strong faith as personified in the figures of the Magi. He writes: Today the Magi gaze in deep wonder at what they see: heaven on earth, earth in heaven, man in God, God in man, one whom the whole universe cannot contain now enclosed in a tiny body. As they look, they believe and do not question, as their symbolic gifts bear witness: incense for God, gold for a king, myrrh for one who is to die.
In St Bernard of Clairvaux’s (1090-1153) view, the Magi became fools in order to attain the real wisdom, the Holy Wisdom, Jesus Christ in the Babe of Bethlehem. What are you doing, O Magi? Do you adore a little Babe, in a wretched hovel, wrapped in miserable rags? Can this Child be truly God? … Are you become foolish, O Wise Men … Yes, these Wise Men have become fools that they may be wise! With St Josemaria Escriva (1902-1975) the epiphany becomes an invitation from the God incarnate to transforms us in what He himself is. In his book Christ is passing by, St Josemaria writes: It is no magic formula He brings because He knows that the salvation He offers must pass through human hearts. What does He first do? He laughs and cries and sleeps defenceless, as a baby, though He is God incarnate. And He does this, so that we may fall in love with Him, so that we may learn to take Him in our arms…. As you kneel at the feet of the child Jesus on the day of His Epiphany and see Him a king bearing none of the outward signs of royalty, you can tell Him: “Lord, take away my pride; crush my self-love, my desire to affirm myself and impose myself on others. Make the foundation of my personality my identification with you.”
Epiphans shows us that even you and me, like the Wise Men, can become stars for others to show them Christ’s way, much like the saints did. In his homily for the Epiphany solemnity of 6 January 2013 Pope Benedict XVI says: As pilgrims of faith, the Wise Men themselves became stars shining in the firmament of history and they show us the way. The saints are God’s true constellations, which light up the nights of this world, serving as our guides. Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Philippians, told his faithful that they must shine like stars in the world.
Finally epiphany is all about a journey of transformation in, with and through Christ. In his homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord of Wednesday 6 January 2021, Pope Francis teaches:
The second helpful phrase is to set out on a journey. Before they could worship the Child in Bethlehem, the Magi had to undertake a lengthy journey. Matthew tells us that in those days “wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying: ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him’” (Mt 2:1-2). A journey always involves a transformation, a change. After a journey, we are no longer the same. There is always something new about those who have made a journey: they have learned new things, encountered new people and situations, and found inner strength amid the hardships and risks they met along the way. No one worships the Lord without first experiencing the interior growth that comes from embarking on a journey... Like the Magi, we too must allow ourselves to learn from the journey of life, marked by the inevitable inconveniences of travel. We cannot let our weariness, our falls and our failings discourage us. Instead, by humbly acknowledging them, we should make them opportunities to progress towards the Lord Jesus. Life is not about showing off our abilities, but a journey towards the One who loves us. We are not to show off our virtues in every step of our life; rather, with humility we should journey towards the Lord. By keeping our gaze fixed on the Lord, we will find the strength needed to persevere with renewed joy.
Lord Jesus Christ, help me to keep my gaze always fixed on you because only in you shall I find that much-needed strength to persevere, with your renewed joy, in letting you finding me to save me. Amen!
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap