Liturgical Colour : White
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ, the day when the great Magi and wise men from the East, from the faraway lands came to give Him honour and pay homage to the King of kings, and through that act, He revealed Himself to all mankind, not just as a mere Man, but as a Great King beyond compare, a High Priest of all creations, and the Messiah who would suffer and die for our sake, so that we may be saved.
Epiphany comes from the Greek ‘Ephiphanein’ and the Latin ‘Epiphania’ which means a moment of revelation or realisation, which is indeed what this Feast is all about. The Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ is the moment when Christ revealed Himself to all the peoples, even to the Gentiles or the non-Jews, who came from afar to visit Him and pay honour to Him. He who is a King was born in a lowly stable, unknown to others except to the shepherds that had seen and heard the angels’ proclamations, and to the animals present there.
On this day, we ought to see several very vivid and clear symbolisms in what we have heard from the Scripture and Gospel readings. The very bright star that the Magi of the East saw from their homeland was the Star of the Messiah, the true Light of the world, whose light and truth illuminates everything that lie in darkness. Those who live in the darkness have indeed seen a great Light, just as the prophet Isaiah has said.
People in the past, before the advent of the use of maps and all the satellite-based imageries we have in our possession now, used the heavenly bodies such as the sun, moon and the stars to help them to orientate themselves and find direction to their destination. Sailors used the stars to guide them on their voyage and journey, and certain star patterns and constellations were created by the people for precisely this purpose, that they may be easily recognised as the guiding lights to help the people find their way.
The Star of Bethlehem, that bright star of exceeding and unparalleled brightness is therefore also a guide, and a guide that is unparalleled and unprecedented, for it is not just a guide for the people to a physical destination, but as a guide that leads them to none other than the final destination which all the peoples should have aimed for, that is to reach out to the Lord and Messiah, and who is now finally reachable, for He has been born a Baby, a Royal Child, God incarnate into Man.
That star is often associated with the symbol of faith, and this is representing the faith of the Magi of the East, who came from faraway lands on long journeys, note that travel at that time is not like that of today, with travels done across desert and uninhabited lands, without proper roads, on the back of camels and with many months of travel before finally reaching the destination. Nevertheless, the faith which the Magi had was evident, as they persevered through all that just that they might be able to see the Lord and King whom they did not know beforehand.
And by that revelation, when the Magi discovered the Lord in that stable in Bethlehem, they saw the one True and only God who had come into being through Jesus. They saw the salvation of the world, and they were glad. They came bearing gifts fitting for the One who had come to this world to save it, and it is these gifts that we should be focused at now. These gifts are gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Gold is a precious metal and commodity, prized greatly for its luster and shine, its beauty and lasting properties, with pure gold showing no tarnish even after centuries and millennia, maintaining its beautiful and shiny appearance. As such it is highly valuable and often only the rich were able to afford it. Therefore, it is also a suitable gift for a king, as a king is often adorned with riches and wealth, and the gift of gold is meant to honour and adore the king to whom the gold is presented.
And therefore, the gift of gold by the Magi signifies the kingship of Christ, who as the Lord, Creator and Master of the universe, is King, the King over all kings and Lord over all lords. And therefore by the gift of gold, the Magi acknowledged the kingship of Christ, and welcomed that great King into this world. Yet we all also know that while He is King, He did not boast of His kingship or power, but instead Jesus remained humble and fully devoted to His mission.
This is because the kingship of Christ is based on leadership built upon examples. The leader and King, that is Jesus, led His beloved people by His own examples, loving one another as God had first loved them, forgiving each other of our own faults and mistakes, and to welcome those who are downtrodden, weak, ostracised and condemned by others. He did not come to lord over His people or to oppress them as kings of this world often did, but to lead His people by example.
How about frankincense then? Frankincense is the finest kind of incense reserved only for special uses. Incense are taken from the dried secretions of plants that contain different fragrant aroma depending on the type of the incense, and they had been used for many millennia across many cultures and peoples to be offered to the divine and to the supernatural spirits.
Hence, the gift of frankincense, the finest grains of incense and the ones having the sweetest aroma, by the Magi to the Child Jesus represent two dimensions and aspects of Christ. First, Jesus Christ our Lord is God, Lord of all creations, Word incarnate and made Flesh. He is God and forever is God, and therefore, is alone worthy of worship and adoration. The offering of frankincense just as gold that highlighted His kingship, highlighted His divinity.
And then it also highlighted the role that Jesus took up as He came into our world wearing the flesh of our human form, that He became the sole High Priest, the priest of all priests, offering the sacrifice for the sake of all mankind to God. And while other priests offered the sacrifice for their own sins and for the people, and having to offer sacrifices again and again, the Sacrifice of Jesus our High Priest was done once and for all, when He lay suffering and hanging from the cross on Calvary.
As the One true High Priest, Jesus Christ our Lord offered to God a worthy sacrifice in exchange for all of our sins, past, present and future, from the beginning of time to its ending, the sins and iniquities of all mankind. This is the sweetest incense offered to God, represented by the Magi’s gift of frankincense to the Child Jesus. And we all should know that this sacrifice is none other than the Most Precious Body and Blood of our Lord, which are also shed and shared with us all who believe in Him and profess Him as our Lord and God.
Thus far, the two gifts of gold and frankincense have revealed to us and to all peoples that Christ is the King of kings, as the Lord and Almighty God, and as the High Priest of all mankind. Then how about the last gift of myrrh? Myrrh is a substance used in embalming of the bodies of the dead, as the substance used to mask the bad and foul odour of decay and also acting as a preservative agent to help keep the body intact after death and avoid decomposition.
You must be wondering and may even be bewildered. How come is it that such a gift is given to a Baby just after His birth? Is myrrh not something more suitable to be given to dead bodies or to families in sorrow after just losing their loved ones to death? Why did the Magi give such a strange gift to the Lord, after their gifts of gold and frankincense, bringing great glory and praise to God?
That is because, brothers and sisters in Christ, once again I would like to stress the importance of seeing the events of the life of Jesus Christ on earth as one whole singular unity, with a clear and singular purpose, that is to save us all, the people of God from the tyranny of sin and death. And the only way to do that is for Jesus to bear our sins, as His cross, and carry all the burdens and weights of those sins, and suffering in our stead the punishment for sins, although He is without blame.
We cannot separate the celebration of Christmas from the celebration of the rest of the life of Jesus, especially the celebration of the events of the Holy Week and Easter. Why did Jesus choose to come into this world as a simple Baby? That is because He wanted to save us, and the way to do so, is through His death, on the Good Friday that we celebrate every year. And by His resurrection on Easter Sunday, He broke free our chains of sin and death, and bring to us a new hope of an eternal life.
Thus, the gift of myrrh by the Magi as the third gift is to prepare for the death of Jesus, whom many certainly was unable to predict right there and then. Nobody would expect the Messiah to suffer and die for our sake, even though indeed this had been prophesied in the book of the prophet Isaiah, but many refused to believe so. And thus, this last gift of myrrh is a testimony that reveals who Christ is to the nations, as the Lord who gave up all He had, so that by His actions, His loving sacrifice, He might deliver His people from certain destruction.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, after we have gone through all the symbolisms in this Epiphany feast’s Scripture readings, let us all first resolve to follow the examples of the Magi, who followed faithfully the star all the way from their homeland until they saw the Lord in person. Abraham once had done similarly, and in his faith, he was richly rewarded by the Lord. In this, we should learn that faith is essential for us, and we have to put our complete trust in the Lord without reservation.
And then, through the three great gifts of the Magi, let us all come to a realisation of what God had done for us, He who is all powerful and mighty, having no need for anything, and yet desiring to be with us and to rescue us from certain death. Thus, let us all repay that great love He had shown us, by loving Him back with all of our hearts, and show Him the greatest gifts He would want from us, that is our love, the love of our hearts for Him.
Therefore, let us all renew our faith and devotion to our loving God, and with all our hearts, let us turn all our attentions to Him, and praise and adore Him, our Lord who had revealed Himself to the world and to all the peoples on this great Feast of the Epiphany. Lord, reveal Yourself to all the nations that everyone may be saved in You. Amen.
First Reading :
Second Reading :
Gospel Reading :
Epistle (Usus Antiquior) :
Gospel (Usus Antiquior) :