Solemnity - Epiphany of the Lord
Isaiah 60:1-6; Ps. 71: 1-2, 7-8, 10-13; Gospel of Matthew 2: 1-12
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 5th January 2020
The word “epiphany” means “to show and to manifest”. On this Solemnity of the Epiphany, the first obvious question we have is, “What is being manifested and shown to us and the world by God”?
Let us first note that in today’s Gospel of St Matthew that we just heard proclaimed, we have the three wise men asking King Herod, “Where is the Infant King of the Jews? We saw His Star as it rose and have come to do Him homage.” And the Gospel adds that, “When King Herod heard this he was perturbed . . .” There are two opposing realities happening here: we have the Three Wise men searching for God to pay Him homage and we have King Herod, a powerful king who is terrified that the Infant King Jesus may overthrow him.
Spiritual writers tell us that the Three Wise men or three kings or the Magi, were non-Jewish astrologers from the East. Unlike other astrologers, these three wise men were not looking for money or power. They were people seeking the God’s Truth, God’s Light and God’s Love.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, there is much we can learn from the Magi. Let us first note and learn from the Magi that as soon as they sensed that the “Star” they sighted was the Star of the Saviour, they promptly made their way to Jerusalem, the capital city; regardless of how long, how harsh the weather conditions were, and how dangerous their journey to a foreign and unknown land would be for them. For to them, all the risks and dangers were worthwhile, for it is the Infant Saviour that they want to behold and worship.
And so, their passionate commitment search for the Infant King of the Jews was one that was filled with trust that God would lead them to the Messiah, and that all their needs will be provided and cared for by God. And when they eventually did find the Infant King of the Jews, the Messiah, they bowed in great reverence and paid Him homage, and offered Him the precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; gifts that symbolise who the Messiah is. They were then warned in a dream not to return to King Herod, but to return to their own country by a different way. which they obeyed, as obeying God’s Will is far more important than obeying King Herod’s will.
And so my sisters and brothers in Christ, the “Epiphany of the Infant King of the Jews” that the Magi were searching and found is The True Messiah and The Saviour of the world whom the prophets have foretold. In this “Epiphany” account of the Gospel, we see how God reveals His Plan of Salvation to all peoples in the world, as symbolised by the Magi coming in search of Him from the East. We also see how God protects His Plan of Salvation through a dream that the Magi receives, to avoid the evil schemes of King Herod to kill the Messiah.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the “Epiphany” of God’s Plan of Salvation is more than simply a historical event some 2,000 years ago. God’s Plan of Salvation continues to be manifested and shown to the world today, and in our lives. However, to recognise such a reality, like the Magi, we are each called by God to have the eyes of faith to “see” His Presence and a heart to sense and feel God’s Guiding Hand in the different situations of our lives.
At the beginning of December, the weather forecasts were that there will be rain every day till the end of the year. Several very concerned and committed Cathedral ministry members approached me and asked me what our plans were, in the light of the forecasts? The concerns for a very wet season in December was very real, as during early December there were already torrential rain almost every day, and our lighted angels were short-circuiting very frequently.
Our Advent programme of our Cathedral was to begin with the “Official Light up of the Angels and the opening of the Bethlehem village” on 7th December, and thereafter, for ten days, every night we had a full line up of programme of carolling, concerts, healing service, guided contemplations and film on the Nativity of Jesus, Advent spiritual reflections, Christmas party and Masses for Children and also for the elderly, sick and housebound and the like.
What was then my response to our concerned Ministry members? I said, “As in the past three years, there will be no Plan B. But, all of us have to pray very hard and not take God for granted. We have to storm heaven that God will provide us with good weather throughout the whole Advent season, and that all our Advent programme will be well. Looking back with deep gratitude to God, we all know that in God’s graciousness, He answered our prayers every night . . . without fail.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, the “Epiphany” of God’s Presence, Protection, Care and Love for us is not only for the Cathedral’s needs, but we can be sure that God continues to be gracious to us in the daily needs of our lives, regardless of who were are: whether are gathered here in this Eucharist, or whether we are the Magi searching for God coming from the East, or even if we are non-Christians, searching for a deeper meaning and fulfilment in life. This is so because God loves every human person as they are all created in His Image and Likeness. And as such, He will continue to manifest and be the “epiphany” of His Presence, in different ways, and to all human lives and needs.
In this light, let us not forget and take for granted, that we are very blessed and privileged to be given the gift of faith in the Infant Jesus, the Messiah, to proclaim His Father’s Plan of Salvation to the world, at His Birth, and later in His life as the Crucified and Risen Lord, offers Eternal Salvation to all peoples in the world.
This means that as we are very privileged to be given the abundant blessings of the Sacraments and the Teaching authority of the Church in matters of faith and morals, we must not take all these blessings for granted. Instead, we are each called by God to live our faith to the full . . . and witness it with joy and committed fidelity, as the Magi have shown us.
Not to live our faith as sincerely and faithfully, as the Magi and the many saints and martyrs, and the many holy people we know personally, is to risk ourselves drifting from away from God’s Truth, Light and Love, and eventually finding ourselves being caught into the temptations of the secular world of glory and comforts of material possessions, and the gratification of secular power, popularity and prestige that come from the personal pride within our hearts.
This pride whether knowingly or imperceptibly cause us to drift away from God. And as we drift further from God, and if we are not careful and if we allow this “drifting away from God to continue,” we can even find ourselves, one day living a life of fear and insecurity, like that of King Herod; a king who had great armies to protect his palaces and possessions, but a man who is lives in the constant fears and insecurities of his life. And why is this so we may ask? The answer is clear. Unless, we put God at the centre of our lives and unless God is the foundation of the love we have in our hearts, no worldly power, riches, glamour and gratification can give us the deep peace and security that every human person longs to have in our hearts and homes.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I have no doubts that all of us here wants to love God and live in His Peace and Love. However, in our love for God, we each have a tendency to expect God to love us in ways that we want Him to love us, and not so much as how God wants to love us. Like a child who makes unreasonable demands on his parents, we too often find ourselves being impatient with God, unless He gives us what we want and as soon as we want our needs met. If this is how we relate to God, then our faith in God is superficial, immature and childish.
When we pray for good weather for the Cathedral’s Advent programme, we pray in trust that God will provide; and we believe in good faith that God will provide, for the greater good of all peoples and for His Greater Glory. We do not make demands on God as though He must answer our prayers in the way we want or else we would get upset with Him or loose trust in Him. A faith that dares to trust God is a faith that loves God and knows that He who loves us will never fail us. But, a faith that makes unreasonable demands on God is a different matter . . .
When the wise men found a poor child; born in the simplicity of a stable and placed in a manger, with Mary and Joseph, they were not disappointed or put off. They did not think that the “Star” had brought them to the wrong place. Instead, they knelt down in deep reverence, and paid homage and worshipped the Infant Jesus, the King of the Jews and of all nations; and offered Him the precious gifts of gold, Frankincense and myrrh that they had brought.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, the Magi, accepted God as they found Him, and how God has chosen to show Himself to them, and to the world. The Magi neither imposed nor insisted that God has to be revealed in the ways that they expected Him to be born, and how as Saviour of the world He has to reveal Himself.
And so, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that when the Magi sensed that the “Star” that they sighted was the “Star of the Saviour” who will be born as an Infant King of the Jews, they acted promptly and with great trust that God will surely provide, protect and somehow lead them to find the Messiah, regardless of the challenges they are to face. Likewise, we too must follow the guiding “Star” of the Holy Spirit within our hearts with a committed love that is prompt and decisive, and is willing to put the goal of finding the Messiah as the top priority of our lives, regardless of how He may choose to reveal Himself to us in our daily living.
Like the Magi, we too must be willing to offer the Messiah, the precious gifts that is worthy of a Messiah. The Magi offered gold because He is the King of all kings, and the Lord of our lives. Frankincense because the Messiah is truly God and divine. And myrrh because the Messiah is eventually going to die, out of His Merciful Love for us and our Salvation. And so, if the Messiah is to give His life for our sake and Salvation, what are we going to give Him, in the daily living and challenges of our lives? Are we to give Him our leftover time, talents, energies, wealth and possessions? This is a question you and I have to answer and be answerable to God personally, now on this earth and when we are judged by Him after we die.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us then ask God for the grace and wisdom to offer our whole self and our lives to Him, and allow God’s dream for us to be fulfilled during our lifetime on earth, according to His Will and in the ways that He Wills to show us. And, if we are able to live our faith as trustingly and committedly as the Magi have shown us, then we can be sure that our lives will be a life of true homage to God, and then eventually gain the Eternal Happiness that the Messiah, wants to give us.
Adapted from: Ref: Fr Dominic White, Jan. 1st 2020; Torch, The Dominican Friars – England & Scotland; https://www.english.op.org/torch/drawn-by-light
Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.