Sunday, 3 January 2021 : Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, one of the most important celebrations of the Liturgical Year. This Solemnity of the Epiphany celebrates the revelation of the Messiah or the Saviour of the world to all the nations and the peoples of the world. The word Epiphany came from the Greek word ‘Epiphaneia’, which means revelation and manifestation.

That is why today, on this celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord, we focus our attention on the manifestation and revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ, Saviour of the whole world to all the nations, represented by the Holy Magi or the Wise Men. That is why the celebration of the Epiphany is closely tied to the Three Wise Men or Magi, and in the Gospel we heard of the account of their visit to the Lord at His manger in Bethlehem, guided by the bright Star of Bethlehem.

The Magi saw the Star of Bethlehem from afar as a very prominent and bright star, and as they were educated and intelligent people who perhaps dwelled in astrology and other studies, they knew that a very prominent event was about to happen, and in this case, it was the upcoming birth and arrival of the Saviour of the world as prophesied by the many prophets and wise men throughout the centuries and millennia past.

They undertook the very long and arduous journey from their respective lands, as was common at that time, travelling a long time and enduring difficult conditions to reach the place pointed at by the Star. Although their names were not recorded in the Scriptures, but according to the Church traditions, their names were Caspar or Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar or Balthazar. Their places of origin were often given as India, Persia and Arabia or other relatively distant places.

We heard of how they came to king Herod, the ruler of the land, both to ask for advice and direction, as well as to courteously seek permission to find the One prophesied and shown by the Star, which happened to be in the land under the rule of the king. Herod however became immediately suspicious and fearful over the news of a rival King that would come into the world, fearing that this King would seize the power and authority from him and his family.

King Herod the Great himself was in fact not a Jew or descendant of the Israelites, but rather a Nabatean, one of the neighbouring people of the Israelites. He also seized power from the rightful rulers of the land, the Hasmoneans in a coup engineered and supported by the Romans, who then came to be overlords of the region. As such, king Herod the Great always felt very insecure in his reign, and this news of the coming of a new King certainly unsettled him a lot.

Nonetheless, the Magi managed to get his permission, regardless of the vicious plots that Herod would later on execute in trying to destroy this new threat to his reign as king. The Magi eventually came to Bethlehem after a long journey and saw the King of kings, the One shown to them by the Star and prophesied by the prophets, and they recognised Him and paid Him homage.

And now I want to bring all of our attentions to the gifts that each of the Magi brought before the Lord in homage and submission. Each of these gifts were precious on their own and had great symbolic meaning and importance. The gift of gold, frankincense and myrrh had greater symbolic meaning than what their earthly values might have shown, and it revealed to us all, Who the Lord that the Magi had paid homage to, truly is.

First of all, the gift of gold signifies royalty and kingship, as gold at that time symbolises glory and wealth just as it is still the case today. Therefore this gift of gold signifies that the Lord was truly a King, and indeed not just like any other kings of this world, but the one True King of all, the King of Kings and Lord of lords. He has come into this world as King but not behaving like other kings, for instead of seeking to be served, He came to serve His people, His beloved ones.

Then, the gift of frankincense has two important meaning, first being a symbol of Christ’s role as the High Priest of all, the one True and Eternal High Priest signifying how He would offer the perfect sacrifice and offering to redeem us from our sins, and be the worthy sacrifice and absolution from our shortcomings. Incense is usually used by the priests as the offering of prayers to the gods, and in this way, it emphasised Christ’s High Priest role.

Frankincense then is also a mark of Christ’s divinity, for when offered to Him in homage by the Magi, this offering of the finest quality incense signified the sanctity of God, that the Child born of Mary in Bethlehem was not just a mere Man or a mere Child. He is God Himself in the flesh, possessing two distinct but inseparable natures of Man and Divine concurrently in the person of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour.

Last of all, is the gift of myrrh from the Magi. On a hindsight, the gift of myrrh is truly a bewildering one given that while myrrh is an expensive commodity and spice highly sought after and rare, but it was also commonly used in the preservation and embalming of dead bodies, which is why given that this was presented to the Child Jesus, it might have been strange at a glance.

However, the myrrh is an important reminder and revelation of the role that the Lord would take up in fulfilling His ministry, as the precursor and sign to His Passion, suffering and death on the Cross. The myrrh therefore marked the great sacrifice and love of God for us all that He would even suffer and go through the most terrible pain and humiliation for our sake, unto death for us.

The gifts of the Magi, the gold, frankincense and myrrh therefore revealed the true nature of the Lord and Saviour, He Who is King over all and the Lord over all things, Who is also the Most High and Almighty God, and at the same time, also the Eternal High Priest of all creation, having been incarnate as Man, and through His humanity united to His divinity, He would suffer for our sake, bearing His Cross of love, that through His suffering and death, all are to be saved from their sins and from the eternal damnation.

The Lord has revealed Himself to the Jews, to His own people at the moment of His presentation and circumcision at the Temple of God, and then now, as celebrated in this Epiphany, He has also revealed Himself and His intentions to the non-Jewish people as well, showing that everything He has promised, He would do for everyone without bias or regard for their race or origin, their status or descent among others. All are equally beloved by God, and He is the Lord and Saviour of all.

On this Solemnity of the Epiphany, we are therefore brought to focus on the Lord’s ever present love for each and every one of us, and reminded of the same love that He has showered on us from the very beginning. Through Christ all of us have seen the salvation of God, and while once we were in the darkness, but through Him and our faith in Him, hope has been restored to us, and we have been strengthened and rejuvenated as God’s beloved children once again.

On this day as we focus on the revelation of the Lord to the nations, as He has shown Himself to the Magi, let us all remember the dedication and commitment of the Magi who answered the Lord’s call and sought for Him as they braved the dangers of the long journey just so that they might pay homage to Him and to worship Him. Their faith is an inspiration to all of us, just as according to the Church traditions, the Magi lived to old age and became Christians themselves, and took part in their respective ministry until their lives’ end.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, on this Solemnity of the Epiphany, are we willing and able to follow in the footsteps of the Magi and seek the Lord with renewed zeal and love for Him? Are we willing to renew our faith and commitment to the Lord, that we may ourselves be inspiration for our fellow brothers and sisters, and through us, we may inspire even more people and call more people to the Lord’s salvation and grace? This is our calling as Christians, brothers and sisters in Christ.

Let us all inspire each other to be ever more faithful to God in all things that we may truly be worthy to call ourselves as Christians and bear the Light of Christ within ourselves. May our actions and deeds, our words and interactions be like the bright Star of Bethlehem shining its bright light in the darkness of the world. Let us all bear faithful witness to our Lord and Saviour, for all the love and commitment He has shown us all these while.

May God, our Lord, King, High Priest and Saviour, revealed and manifested to the whole world, be our Light and Guide, and may He be our Strength as we continue to walk faithfully in His presence in this world bearing witness to His truth and love. May He bless us all in our every good endeavours and works, now and always. Amen.

Sunday, 3 January 2021 : Second Sunday after Christmas (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday, the second Sunday in the season of Christmas, we are reminded yet again of the reason why we celebrate this Christmas. We do not rejoice and celebrate because we seek pleasures and joys of this world, or satisfaction for our needs and desires. We rejoice because of the love that God has shown us so wonderfully and generously through His Son, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

So great was His love that since the very beginning, He has given us His compassion and love, showering us with mercy and patience throughout the journey. Despite our rebelliousness and sins, He has always continued to love us, even to the greatest of sinners. When Adam and Eve sinned against God, He could easily have annihilated them or condemned them to eternal suffering, but He did not do so.

While He forced them to wander the earth and suffer the consequences of their sins, but at that very same moment He also reassured them that salvation would eventually come for all of them, when He spoke of the Woman through whom the Lord would bring His salvation, crushing the devil, his power and dominion over the world and all the evil and wicked plots he had created against us.

When Cain murdered Abel out of jealousy, the Lord still showed Him mercy and helped him to get away from his predicament, and He rescued Noah and his family on the great Ark when all of the whole world had completely turned against God and dwelled in their wickedness and evil. Then, throughout many years, decades and centuries, again and again He helped His people, making Covenant with His servant Abraham and his descendants.

Throughout the history of mankind, God has always remained faithful to the Covenant He had made with us since the beginning. He has always guided and attempted to lead us to Himself. He has never abandoned us no matter what. Sadly, it was us and our predecessors that had abandoned the Lord and betrayed Him for the temptations and allures of the world. We sought quick satisfaction and comfort, which is why we turned to everything in the world and not to God.

Nonetheless, God remained faithful, and He rescued His people from their troubles, from their slavery in Egypt, guiding them through the Red Sea and destroying their enemies, establishing them in the lands of Promise, and made them prosper. Again and again, when the people disobeyed Him and were stubborn in rebelling against Him, He showed patience and tried to bring them back to His truth and love.

Throughout more and more centuries God continued to take care of His people, and He sent His deliverance to us, fulfilling all the promises He had made from the very beginning. The Lord Himself became Man, assuming our human nature and the existence of our flesh, became fully Man just as He is also fully Divine. In the person of Jesus Christ, exists inseparably two distinct natures, Divine and Man.

This is what the Lord has shown all of us, His enduring love for every single one of us, without exception. The Son of Man and Son of God born in Bethlehem to Mary is the perfect manifestation of this Love. We are celebrating this Christmas because of this, the generosity and wonders of God’s love that never ends, His faithful love and commitment to the Covenant which He had made with all of us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as St. Paul said in his Epistle to the Ephesians as our second reading today, the Lord has revealed His truth to us through Christ, Our Saviour and Lord. He has brought freedom to us through His Son, and most importantly through His most loving and selfless sacrifice on the Cross, by which He established a new and everlasting Covenant with all of us. By His own Blood, He has paid the price of sin and liberated us from eternal death.

Now, what is important is that, each and every one of us as Christians are His followers and believers, that is we believe in all that He has revealed to us, and we believe that He is our Lord and Saviour, our most loving Father and Creator. And now that we have received this truth from Him, our calling and purpose in life is to bear witness to this truth, and to the same hope and love that He has shown us through Christ.

How are we making our Christmas celebrations meaningful and worthwhile, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is not by spending a lot of money and lavish celebrations that we truly rejoice and celebrate this Christmas. Rather, it is by devoting our effort, time and attention to show the love of God in this world, by reaching out with love to all our brethren in need, especially those who are in need of love and compassion.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all make our Christmas celebrations truly meaningful and worthwhile, devoting ourselves to follow the Lord’s calling and do our very best to touch the lives of others, being generous in giving and in loving one another. May the Lord be our Guide, our Strength and our Hope. May He bless each and every one of us and strengthen us with the courage to live virtuously and filled with His love from now on. Amen.