The word “epiphany” in Greek means “to show forth” or to “reveal.” What is this “revelation” that we are celebrating about? On Christmas day, we celebrated with great joy God’s coming into our world and our lives. Today, on the Feast of the Epiphany we are sharing the blessings of Christmas to all peoples; the revelation of God as Saviour to the whole world, as symbolised by the three wise men from the East, coming to worship God whom they found in a manger in Bethlehem.
In today’s Gospel, St Matthew quotes Prophet Micah in 5:2 prophesying that a Saviour is to come from the town of Bethlehem in Judea. He says, “you are by no means least . . . for out of you will come a leader who will shepherd my people Israel.” Furthermore, in the First Reading, Prophet Isaiah proclaims a message of hope to the people of Israel. He says that in the darkness and the night that still covers you, “your Light has come . . .”
There is a story of a blind man, Jack who visited his friend; they enjoyed each other’s company so much that they did not realise that it was night. In fact, it was a dark and stormy night. As Jack was leaving, his friend gave him a lamp. Jack was somewhat puzzled and said, “Why do you give me a lamp when I am blind? I don’t need this lamp. I can use my stick and find my way home. His friend replied, “This lamp is not for you, but for others. If you carry this lamp with you, others will be able to see you and not collide into you; moreover, you will be providing light for others.
As Jack was making his way through the forest, the storm got worse. All of a sudden, someone collided into him and both fell to the ground. Jack got upset and shouted at the stranger, “Are you blind, can’t you see the lighted lamp in my hand? “I am not blind. You are carrying a lamp, but it is not lighted!” With that, Jack suddenly came to the realisation that the storm had blown off the light in his lamp. So, he immediately apologised, “I am sorry my friend. I am blind, and I did not realise that the flame had been blown off by the wind.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, when we celebrate the Feast of Christmas, we are celebrating how God the greatest of all Giver, has given us the most precious gift that all peoples of the world can every receive – He has given us His Son , Emmanuel, who has come into our world and lives. However, today, on this Feast of the Epiphany, we are celebrating how we are each called to be a giver of gifts to others in our daily living; most of all we are called to give and share Christ with all peoples.
Jack’s friend in our story got it right. The lamp was not only to prevent others from colliding into him, but more importantly to provide light for others who are lost in the storm and need to see.
As we receive the Light of Christ; the gift of faith from God, like Jack who received the lamp from his friend, we are called to develop the attitude of living not only for our own sake, but for the good of others, as Jack’s friend has taught Jack. We are called to carry the Light of Christ and to keep it burning and share Christ with others, so that all who are going through the storms of life can be guided by the Light of Christ that we keep burning in our hearts and lives.
One Jesuit homilist said, “Epiphany is the feast of gift-givers of all kinds and for all times . . . It is the feast to celebrate how we are all called to work hard in order to make our families happy. It is a feast also to remind us of our need to control our tempers for the sake of our loved ones; to refrain consciously from gossips of all kinds and to try to put in a good word for everyone; to share our time with others in spite of our busy day, to be sensitive to the hurting people around us and not take people who love us for granted; to be grateful to contemplative monks who constantly pray for the whole world, and missionaries who leave the familiarity of their homes and land in order to bring the Good News of Christ to others. Indeed, Epiphany is a feast for everyone and anyone who has something to offer to the world, however small because of the Light of Christ in their hearts.
In order to be open to the graces that God wants to give us to live in such other-centred ways, we need to have the simplicity of heart of the three wise men who were open to the Truth of the Christ’s presence in all situations of our lives whether it is in the interpretation of the abnormal movement of the stars in the sky or in the pain of someone we cannot forgive or in the deep love that someone shows, but we are too blind and hurt to see and accept.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us be reminded that the Word of God that is proclaimed to us Sunday after Sunday, or at different times of the week when we pray, will only make a difference if we take allow God’s Truth to touch out hearts. The revelation of the infant Jesus as the Messiah to all peoples in the world evoked two contrasting responses: the three wise men and king Herod.
The beautiful story of the three wise men in today’s Gospel is endearing to all of us because we see them searching for God; we see them persevering with courage, and we see them honouring God with deep reverence when they found Him.
The three wise men story touches our hearts because they express the deep longings that each of us have within our hearts. They express a fidelity to God that each of us long to live daily but, are not yet able to achieve to its fullness.
In great contrast, king Herod was enveloped and so absorbed by the darkness of sin that he was willing to destroy any person for the sake of preserving his own kingdom. In his madness and sickness for power and control, and thus his suspicion of every person, he even murdered his own wife Mariamne and her mother Alexandra, and assassinated three of his sons: Antipater, Alexander and Aristobulus. The Roman Emperor Augustus said that it was safer to be Herod’s pigs than to be his sons.
Thus, while we can see why Herod was determined to kill Jesus, the Saviour who was to be king because He was a threat to his power, we can also see that Herod’s plans to destroy Jesus will never succeed as He was fighting against God, the almighty God who created the universe and heavens.
Let me conclude by saying that we too have a choice to respond like the wise men or in great contrast like king Herod. If we choose to be self-absorbed by our preoccupations, prestige and power as symbolised by king Herod’s sinful ways, then the consequences are obvious; we need not dwell on them.
But, if we choose the path of the wise men whose passionate search for Jesus was just so that they could honour and worship Him, then we can be sure that the True Light of Christ will illumine our minds and hearts in our daily lives.
For this we need to develop the attitude of being more like Jack’s friend who sees the needs of others as more important than our own needs. One way to develop such Christ-like attitudes is to develop a meaningful prayer life. But, if we continue to tell ourselves that we don’t find prayer to be meaningful and useful as most of the time nothing much happens, then would sound like an argument of a spouse or parent who says that there is no use coming home early because it’s a waste of time as there is nothing to do at home.
Story, “A Light from the Night”: Adapted from Dr. Babu Philip, Professor, Cochin University of Science & Technology, Fine Arts Avenue, Kochi-682016, Kerala, India.
Fr Jose Cecilio Magadia,S.J., adapted from homily, St Bernadette, Parlin, New Jersey, January 1994.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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