Sunday, 7 January 2018 : Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we all celebrate the great feast and solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, which traditionally marks the end of the season of Christmas, and which begins the time of the Ordinary Time in the current Roman calendar, and the Weekdays after Epiphany in the Traditional calendar. On this great occasion, we remember the moment, when the Lord Jesus Christ, Saviour and God, was revealed to the whole world.

The word Epiphany itself comes from the Greek term Epiphaneia, which means manifestation or appearance. That is why this Solemnity, among the most ancient and historical in the traditions of the Church, celebrates the moment when the Lord and Saviour manifested Himself before the world, in the most extraordinary manner. He revealed Himself in ways that many people could not have expected or comprehended.

No, He did not appear before His people in His glory, showing His might and power, with bright light and unapproachable majesty. Had He done that, everyone on earth would have come to believe Him and fear Him right away then. But that was not what He intended to do, and that was not what He had done. No, He appeared in the most unexpected way of all, as a small, little, weak and vulnerable Baby lying down in a manger, in a small, cramped and dirty stable not fit for human beings, and less so for a King, and even less so for the Lord and Master of all creation.

Yet, that is how He has come into this world, assuming the humble appearance and reality of a Man, and as a vulnerable and weak Baby, needing protection and care from His earthly parents. And at the moment of His birth, His coming into this world was pronounced by the Angels of God to the shepherds of Bethlehem. And yet, that was not all that had happened, because especially the significance of today’s Solemnity of the Epiphany is that God wanted to love all of His beloved people, regardless of their status or background.

He came into this world not to save just the people of Israel, but also all of the other races and nations, the non-Jewish people or also known as the Gentiles. And all of these are highlighted in the Scriptures, as we heard the story of the Three Magi or the Three Wise Men, which takes central place in the celebration we have for this great Solemnity of the Epiphany.

The three of them came from faraway lands, travelling for a long period just that they might come to pay homage to the King Who was to be born in Bethlehem, which they saw through the appearance of the bright new star on the sky, the Star of Bethlehem. There are many symbolisms associated with the Solemnity of the Epiphany, and these were just some of them.

The Three Magi represent the faithful people coming from all sorts of background, from distant lands as the premonition of the future, which is our present time and the history of the Church, as the faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ, through the Christian faith, came to spread to all parts of the world, even to the most distant corners and parts of the earth.

They came to Jesus through the Star of Bethlehem, which is a sign of the faith they had in God. Even though the Star of Bethlehem might have been a very wonderful and bright star, an unusual astronomical sign, but no one would have done anything more than admiring it, had they not had great faith in God. That was what the Three Magi had done, travelling very long distance to reach the Lord, even though they did not know Who He was.

When they reached Bethlehem and found the Baby Jesus lying in the manger, through the gifts they brought Him, they also made Him to be revealed to the world, witnessed by all those who were gathered there, and later on immortalised through the Holy Gospels, as what we have heard today, the moment when God called all of His people to Him, and revealed to them Who He really was, in Jesus Christ.

The Three Magi brought Jesus the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Certainly these gifts are not what is common or usual as things to be given to a person, and less still, a newborn Baby. Yet, each of these gifts gives us greater insight to Who Jesus really is, and in fact, each of them highlight a different aspect of the Messiah or Saviour Who came into this world, two millennia ago.

Gold has been highly prized by humanity for a very long time, treasured for its useful properties. It does not rust or tarnish, and therefore it is adapted almost universally as a primary material in the crafting of coins and bullions, as methods for people to do monetary and trading transactions, as well as for the accumulation of wealth. The more gold someone has, the more prestige and honour he or she has.

And gold is also highly prized for its beautiful shine and lustre, which makes it the material of choice for kings and the divinities like gods and idols. Therefore, the gift of gold by the Magi to the Lord Jesus highlights His kingship, for He is indeed the King of all kings, Ruler of all rulers. Yet, this King came not in His grand regalia and wealth, and neither did He come with the showing of His power and majesty. Instead, He chose to come as the humble Son of Man, born of a humble and simple woman, married to a simple carpenter of Nazareth.

Then how about the frankincense? Frankincense is the best quality incense available in the world, the finest of all the finest incense materials made from aromatic natural sources such as hardened tree secretions and natural chemicals. Incense has been used for a very long time throughout the history of mankind for the purpose of divine worship and adoration. As such, it has only been used for the purpose of worship, and not for human beings, and therefore, it symbolises the divine nature of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The frankincense highlights that Our Lord and God is truly the one and only true God, high above any other beings of this world, above all the false idols and gods, and is the only one worthy of worship and praise. And we therefore recognise Jesus not only as just Man, but also God Himself, having two natures, one human and one divine, united in His person.

Last of all, is the gift of myrrh, a truly strange gift to be given to someone, as myrrh is the substance used during embalming and preservation of dead bodies, in order to prevent the dead bodies from decaying and decomposing. Yet, it is the same myrrh and mixture used at the time when Jesus was buried after His death on the cross and before He was placed in the tomb. Myrrh therefore represents the then upcoming fulfilment of God’s mission realised in Jesus, which is through His death on the cross.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the visit of the Three Magi paying homage to Our Lord Jesus is a reminder for each one of us, that Christ is indeed the focus of our Christmas joy, and the focus of our entire faith life. We cannot sideline Him or ignore Him if we are indeed truly Christians, not just in name, but also in action and reality. Unfortunately, there are many among us out there, who have forgotten this fact, and live our lives in absence of Christ in our lives.

We put our human desires, ambitions and all the other things that this world has offered us, ahead of our obligation to love the Lord and to heed His call, for us to come to Him. We always delay whenever He calls, and often we even pretend not to listen when He speaks with us, in the depth of our hearts. And this is one of the main reasons why there are so many of us Christians who are encountering deep crises in our faith, because we do not really embody what we believe in, and our faith becomes merely a formality, rather than reality.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us come to realise, by reflecting on the story of the Three Wise Men, the Magi, who embarked on a long and difficult journey to seek the Lord, and when they finally found Him, they were overcome with joy and gave Him the worthy homage and honour He deserved. And as we have discussed earlier, their actions, the gifts they gave to the Lord, became the source of revelation, that indeed, Jesus, the Baby lying in the manger two millennia ago in Bethlehem, is Our Lord and Saviour, the ultimate proof of God’s everlasting love for us.

That is why, as we reflect again on the significance of the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, we should remember God’s love for us, such that while He is God and King over all, but He willingly embraced us through His assumption of a human nature, and made Himself tangible and visible for us, through the gift of Jesus, His Son. And the gift of myrrh should remind us of that act of ultimate and incomparable love when He gave up His life on the cross, that we may live, and that all of us who believe in Him may receive the grace of eternal life.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all follow in the footsteps of the Three Magi, going forth on a new journey of faith towards the Lord bearing gifts. No, not the gift of gold, or any other worldly precious items, but rather, the gift of our loving hearts. God does not want anything else from us beside our love and commitment, and it is therefore time for us to begin loving Him, and giving Him our all, if we have not done so.

May the Lord, Who was revealed to all of us by the Three Magi bearing the gifts revealing His humanity and divinity, and the mission through which He saved us all, by His death on the cross, continue to guide us on our own respective journeys of faith, that eventually we may find our way to Him, and together with the Angels and the saints, we may give Him honour, praise and glory forevermore. Amen.

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