Liturgical Colour : White
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday we celebrate the great Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, marking the important moment when Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, was revealed to the nations, to the Gentiles or the non-Jewish peoples, as represented by the Magi, also known as the Three Wise Men or even Three Kings, who came from afar, following the bright star, the Star of Bethlehem, in trying to find the Saviour promised by God to His people, the Israelites.
This great Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord got its name from the word Epiphaneia, which is the Greek word for ‘manifestation’ and it can be interpreted with the meaning of God having revealed and manifested Himself before the peoples of all the nations, coming to seek Him and worship Him. No longer that He is just a King and Saviour for the Jewish people alone, as He has revealed before through His prophets in the past, that all the nations and the peoples from those nations will come together seeking the Lord, worshipping and praising Him.
As we all heard from our first reading today taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, the prophet mentioned how the Lord has shown His Light and Salvation to the people of Israel, and how not just the Israelites but all the peoples of all the nations will become God’s beloved people, and follow Him through the Light of His salvation, that is in Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour. It was in Christ that God’s love has been manifested in the flesh, appearing before all of us, Emmanuel, God Who is with us, dwelling in our midst, all of His people.
Through Him, the world that has been in darkness, the darkness of evil and sin has seen a great new Light, the Light that pierces through the darkness of those evils and wickedness. God’s Light and Hope triumphed even over the power of sin and death, and by His coming, Christ brought unto us the assurance of God’s everlasting and enduring love for each one of us. He came to us to reach out to our hearts and minds, calling on us to follow Him and to turn away from our past evils, wickedness and sins. God has given us the way out of the darkness and into His new light.
I am certain that all of us are familiar with the story of the Magi and how they came after having travelled a great distance from their respective home countries, witnessing the great Star of Bethlehem that became their guide and hope, as they endured the long and arduous journey to come to seek the Lord. They finally found Him there in Bethlehem of Judea, a small town where the Lord and Saviour of all was born, placed in a manger in a place that was small and simple, possibly in a stable or any other similar place that was unworthy of proper human habitation, and less still for a King.
Nonetheless, He came into our world, to show His love for us, and through the Magi and their gifts, He revealed Himself to us and the gifts of the Magi also showed us Who the Lord truly is, that Child born in Bethlehem, as the Son of God, the Divine Word Incarnate and not just merely a little Child as how others would have perceived Him to be. The Magi, who are traditionally three in number, corresponding to their three gifts, and named Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, offered the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Lord, paid homage to Him and worshipped Him.
Let us all go through the gifts one by one, beginning with the gift of gold. All of us know that gold is a precious metal that has been used for millennia in the making of precious items and ornaments, of crowns and other expensive items, particularly with regards to royalty and power. For gold is a great symbol of wealth, and it also represents the Kingship of Christ. This is because it was often that the use of gold was often restricted to royalty and only the kings in the past usually had the ability to display his riches and power in gold. It has therefore been a mark and symbol of majesty and power since time immemorial.
Then, gold has also been used in the making of idols, as many pagan idols and gods were made with the liberal use and ornamentations from gold. In the history of the Israelites themselves, I am sure all of us are familiar with how the people of Israel forced Aaron to make for them the golden calf idol when they thought that Moses had died or abandoned them on Mount Sinai. They worshipped that golden calf idol and abandoned their God Who had just liberated them from the hands of the Egyptians and their Pharaoh not long ago. Yet, the gold itself has no fault, as it was how the gold was used that made it to be tainted by evil.
How so? The Ark of the Covenant, the most sacred artefact of the people of Israel, containing the two tablets of stone with the Ten Commandments, the staff of Aaron and the manna, placed in the Holy of Holies and symbolising the presence of God is made almost entirely from gold, and even the Holy of Holies itself were also constructed with ample use of gold. Gold therefore is both a symbol of royal authority, power and divinity, highlighting how the Child Jesus was no mere child but in truth is the King of Kings, Lord of Lords and Master of all the whole Universe.
Then, for the gift of frankincense, we all know how incense has been used for a very long time to offer worship to the divine, to various gods and idols. People from various cultures and origins always associate the pleasant aroma of the various incense blends with the aroma pleasing to their deities, and offered them on their altars. Frankincense itself has an even more significant meaning, as it is the highest quality incense, just as frankincense itself meant high quality incense. It is the purest incense of the highest quality and is reserved for the most solemn occasions.
Its offering to the Child Jesus served as a revelation to all of us that Jesus is not just a mere Man, but He is the Divine Son of God at the same time. He is the one Person with two distinct yet inseparable natures, of Divine and Human natures distinct but perfectly united in his one Person, in the same Child Jesus that the Magi had paid homage to. This offering of frankincense highlighted that divinity of Christ, which at that time was not yet visible behind the veil of His humanity. It is a reminder that Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, is the Divine Word Incarnate, the Son of God Who willingly embraced our human existence, to be born into this world and to make God’s love tangible and approachable to us.
And in another explanation, frankincense is also representative of the Christ’s role as the High Priest of all, a foreshadowing of His own actions later when He would be standing between us and death, offering on our behalf on the Altar of Calvary, the Altar of His Cross, both as our High Priest and as the Paschal Lamb of sacrifice. This frankincense is the symbol of His office and role as the High Priest to deliver us all the redemption and forgiveness through His one act of supreme love by the self-sacrifice on the Cross. It is a prefigurement of the great work of His salvation for us.
Then, the last gift of myrrh by the Magi is a most peculiar and strange one, as myrrh is a kind of spice used in the embalming of the dead, and it was not meant to be offered to a living person and less still to be offered to a Child. Yet, it was a very powerful symbol of the Lord and what He would do in His ministry, again related to His Passion, His suffering and death on the Cross. Although no one could have known it back then, but this was a prefigurement of Christ’s death, and how He would have to go through death in order to accomplish His mission.
Myrrh is also significant because in the various cultures, the embalming of the dead, particularly that of royalty and the nobility was symbolic of their desire to seek eternal life and way out of death. People had always feared death from time immemorial as the end of our earthly life, and because of that, people had always tried to seek ways to prolong their lives without success. And in some cultures in fact, the people believed that they could transcend death and became like the gods.
This highlighted how the Lord our God is so unique among all other beliefs and schools of thoughts out there, from all different faiths and religious beliefs, as when everyone else desired to transcend their mortality to become divine, Our Lord alone willingly humbled Himself to embrace our humanity and take up our human nature, to make His infinite and vast glory into the small and perceivable form of a small Child lying in a manger in Bethlehem. And not only that, as He also willingly later on embraced the worst of sufferings and pain, the scourges and the piercing of nails, as He was condemned to death on the most humiliating punishment on the Cross, for our sake.
As we have just heard and discussed, all the three gifts of the Magi, the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh are all very symbolic and serve to reveal to us all, to the people of all the nations Who this Child Jesus really was. He is the Almighty God and Ruler of all, the King of Kings and the Lord over all creation, the High Priest of all of us mankind, Who has offered on our behalf the most worthy offering, the offering of His own Most Precious Body and Blood on the Altar of the Cross, Who endured suffering and death for our salvation.
The Magi who came from the very far country to seek the Lord bearing the gifts actually represent all of us mankind, all the peoples who have the desire to seek the Lord and to find Him as their Light and salvation. It is a reminder that God came to us not only to save a certain group of people and to gather the children of Israel only, unlike what some among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law would have asserted. Instead, God is calling all the peoples to follow Him, to embrace His truth and love, the same truth and love that His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ has brought unto us.
The Magi followed the bright light of the Star that pointed them towards the Saviour. And this is a reminder for each and every one of us as Christians as we gather to remember the importance of the Epiphany to us. Through the gifts of the Magi, the gold, the frankincense and myrrh, we have been reminded of the nature of Our Lord’s Incarnation and coming into this world, all that He had done for our sake. Through His suffering and death, and by His glorious Resurrection, He has restored us back to life. And yet, are we following Him as the Star and the Light of our lives as well?
How many of us have disregarded the generous love that God has given us and rejected the kindness and mercy that He has shown us? This Christmas season we are constantly being reminded of all that God has done for our sake, and we should do our very best to focus our attention to Him and to glorify Him through our actions and service. Let us do whatever we can, even in the smallest things we say and do, so that our lives become a reflection of God’s Light, truth, hope and love in our respective communities.
In our world today, with so much suffering and difficulties encountered by us and many of our brothers and sisters, let us bring hope and encouragement to each other, and be each others’ pillar of support that we may endure the challenges that we may face together as one Church and one community of the faithful. We are all called to be the bearers of our Christmas joy and hope to all others, that God and His wonderful love and deeds may be known to all through us.
Let us all proclaim our great Lord and Saviour, the One Who has manifested and revealed Himself to the nations through the Magi, the Almighty God, Incarnate in the flesh and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, His mother. Let us all proclaim Him before all the peoples with true faith and sincerity, so that more and more people may come to believe in the Lord through us. May the glory of Our Lord, He Who has manifested Himself and dwelled among us be with us, and may He bless us all in our every good efforts, works and endeavours. Amen.