Liturgical Colour : White
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the great Solemnity of the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ. Many of us will remember that this Solemnity of the Epiphany is related to the Three Wise Men, or the Three Magi or Three Kings, which figurines are always accompanying the Christmas crib, bearing gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense for our Lord Jesus. But then, what is the true meaning and significance of this Epiphany feast?
The word Epiphany came from the Greek word ‘Epiphaneia’, which means the manifestation or appearance, coming from the word ‘Appear’. This feast is also sometimes known as the Theophany, also from the Greek word ‘Theos’ which means God. Thus, this Solemnity of the Epiphany is truly a celebration of the revelation and manifestation of the Lord God, Who made Himself apparent to the whole world through the means of the Three Wise Men or the Three Kings.
It was a feast originally celebrating the Baptism of our Lord Jesus, as at Baptism, when St. John the Baptist baptised Jesus, many people who were there could witness the Holy Spirit descending as a Dove and landed upon the head of Jesus, and the voice of the Father speaking, revealing to all, particularly to St. John the Baptist, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He is the long awaited Messiah and Saviour of the world.
But over time, especially in the tradition of our Faith, the focus shifted to the moment surrounding the Nativity of our Lord, the moments surrounding His birth. The Angels had appeared to the shepherds of Bethlehem and proclaimed to them the great joy of the coming of the Lord and Saviour, the Good News which mankind had awaited for long, and which God had promised to them for many ages through His prophets and messengers.
Yet it was at the events celebrated this Epiphany when the Lord revealed Himself to His people who were of non-Jewish origin, namely the Gentiles, people from faraway lands, who also came to worship God, and who wanted to believe in Him and in His ways and messages. The Three Wise Men, or the Magi, represented these people, who came following the Star of Bethlehem and came bearing gifts to Jesus our Lord, paying Him homage as their one and true King.
There are many symbolisms surrounding the event of this Epiphany, and which we should try to understand so that we may make use of them as best as we can in order to benefit ourselves in our developing faith in our God. For in the Epiphany, we should be able to relate to ourselves and our journey in faith to God, and in the identity of the One Whom we worship, the Lord God of all creation.
The Three Kings or the Three Wise Men are representatives for us all, people from every nations, from every languages and origins, from all the ends of the earth, who came to worship the Lord and who want to believe in Him. They were following the Star of Bethlehem, which represented the coming of the Lord, Who is indeed the Light of the world. Amidst the darkened sky, the star shone brightly, visible from afar, all the way to the lands where the Magi lived in.
That was just like how we saw the Lord, the Light of our lives, amidst the darkness of this world, and we see in Him, the Light which we ought to follow, and which we indeed want to follow. It is also because of faith that they have travelled long distances, enduring difficult conditions of their journey to come and pay homage to the King of kings. That is why the star of Bethlehem is also a sign of faith, the same faith which we share in our own journey of faith. We may have different stories of how our lives had developed, but nevertheless, all of us believe in God and want to look for Him.
Through this event, we know how the Lord wanted to save us all from the threat of our destruction. He did not intend just for the salvation of certain group of people, but all of mankind, including Jews and non-Jews alike. At that time, there were those who thought that being the chosen people of God, the people of Israel were the only ones who were worthy of God’s salvation, particularly among the Pharisees and the elders of the people.
These people shunned the pagans and foreigners, whom they called as Gentiles. They thought of these people as unclean and unworthy of God and His love, and even considered coming into contact and entering their houses as being defiling and brought impurities upon them. But it was God Himself through Jesus Who broke the barriers and the perceptions, proclaiming to all that God loves all people, all of His children, both Jews and Gentiles alike.
We can see the contrast in many occasions throughout the Gospels, when the supposedly pagan Gentiles, from the Greeks to the Samaritans, actually welcomed the Lord and His teachings through Christ, while the Jews themselves were not always receptive to Him, and in some occasions they even rejected and opposed Him, as what the teachers of the Law, the Pharisees and the elders of the people did.
God, through His revelation in this Epiphany wanted to show all of His people, that He is God, Who had come into the world in the form of Man in Jesus Christ, through Whom He would bring His salvation to all of His people without exception. It will not be based on the birth or background of His people that He would save them, but instead, He would save them through faith. Those who believe in Him and place their trust in Him will be saved.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, now that we have discussed about how and why God revealed Himself to the whole world, then now let us all discuss how God revealed Himself to the world through the Three Wise Men. They brought to Jesus our Lord three different and truly unique gifts. Do we all know the significance of those gifts? Each of them had a meaning, and each of them indeed are parts of the revelation of Who Jesus truly is.
The gift of gold, frankincense and myrrh are indeed strange gifts to be given to a newborn Child. Now let us go through each one of them. Gold is a precious metal which since long ago have become a source of wonder and amazement to many people around the world, and it has long become a symbol of wealth and power. And it was often that gold are fit only for the rulers, the royalty and all those who were endowed with power and authority. Not just any person were able to afford t possess gold.
Thus gold represented Jesus Who came into this world as a King, and not just like any other kings, but as the King, the one true King, from Whom all power and authority came from. All the other rulers of this world ultimately derived their authority and power from the Lord, Who blessed them and granted them the guardianship over His people on earth.
Yet we can see just how amazing our Lord and our King is, for although He is a great King, Lord and Master of all the Universe, He is humble, loving and caring for all of His people. And He is showing all by His own examples. He is a leader, a King Who does not sit above everyone else and oppress those who are under Him. Instead, He is a servant leader, Who went through the lowest and the most difficult things a leader had to do, that is to actually go and do the works in order to help His people.
And indeed, even as God, He is not a distant and fearsome God Who oppresses His people. The frankincense is the best quality incense which are both rare and expensive, and are only used for the most solemn of purposes for worship. Incense had been used for a long time as well, in many religious purposes, for the worship of deities and gods, as well as an aromatic perfume because of its aroma and good smelling smoke.
Thus the frankincense represents the divinity of Christ, that Jesus, while He was a mere Baby, weak and fragile, born in a dirty and cramped stable fit only for animals, not for a man, less so a king, and even less so for the King of kings and as the Creator and only God of the whole Universe, was and is indeed God, the only One Who deserves to be worshipped and adored by all of creation.
Through those two gifts, the story of the Epiphany, the visit of the Three Magi or Wise Men has inspired in the hearts of many people about the birth of our Lord, Who has willingly come down upon this world as a Man, taking up the flesh of Man, and born in the worst possible condition, in a poor and dirty stable, and yet, He is indeed the God and King of this world, and this universe. He is both God and Man at the same time, all united in the person of Jesus Christ, Who had two natures, the Divine Nature of God, and the Human nature of Man.
But all these would not be complete, neither would it make sense without the third gift of the Three Magi, which revealed to us all, the very purpose of why Jesus came into this world, why God would want to enter into this world as a mere Man. Myrrh is an aromatic compound commonly used in the past for the purpose of embalming dead bodies, to preserve the dead bodies from decomposition and from emanating foul odours.
It would indeed be weird for someone to give the gift of myrrh to a baby, and less so, to the King of kings and the Creator God of all. But that myrrh represent nothing other than the Passion of our Lord Jesus, what we are celebrating at every Holy Week, of Jesus Christ our Lord, Who willingly took upon Himself the burdens of our sins, the sins of our forefathers, and indeed of all mankind. And He bore it all upon Himself, bearing His cross to Calvary, where He laid down His life for all of us, that we may live.
Thus in Epiphany and what we celebrate today, we see the perfect embodiment and fulfilment of God’s love, in the person of Jesus Christ, the Child Who was born that night in Bethlehem two millennia ago, and to Whom the Three Magi or Wise Men paid homage to, bearing the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, signifying and revealing to all the whole world that He is not just a mere Child, but indeed the King of the whole world, God of all creation, Who out of His infinite love and mercy for us, willingly took up the flesh of Man, incarnate through the Blessed Virgin Mary, His mother, to be our Saviour.
Now, what we need to ask ourselves as Christians, is simple indeed. As Christians, do we truly believe in God’s love through Christ? Do we take Him as our King and our Lord? Have we lived in accordance with His ways, in our actions and deeds? If we say that God is our King and Lord, and yet our actions, words and deeds do not reflect our obedience and adherence to His ways, will it not cause shame and scandal to our Lord’s great and holy Name?
Let us all spend time to reflect on ourselves and our respective lives as we celebrate and rejoice together in this feast and Solemnity of the Epiphany of our Lord. Let us all first of all be thankful to God Who has loved us so much, that He is willing to reveal Himself and His love through Jesus Christ His Son, His greatest gift to all of us. He has sent us the means of our salvation, our liberation from our sins and the One through Whom all of our past trespasses will be forgiven.
May we all grow ever deeper in our relationship with God, and by understanding more about our Lord, by receiving His revelations and understanding them, by our prayerful life and good works, we may receive from Him the gift of everlasting life and grace. May God be with us always and may He bless us in all of our life’s endeavours. Have a blessed and wonderful celebration of the Epiphany. Amen.