Homily for the Solemnity of Epiphany, ©, January 6th, 2019:
This Sunday is the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. This solemnity outranks the Sunday Mass. This solemnity is equal to Christmas, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, and Easter. The reason is because foreigners, Gentiles, come to worship the Lord, God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. “Epiphany” means “an appearance or manifestation of a divine being.” In this case, Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, is manifested to the Magi, who prostrate themselves and worship Him.
Isaiah’s reading prophesies that Jerusalem will be the focal point of all the nations. This vision of a new Zion is universal in the sense that foreigners and their kings will acknowledge and serve the Jews. These foreigners will be welcome in Jerusalem and their offerings will be accepted in the Temple, the place of God’s presence. The people will be transformed. They will be just. Yahweh will be divinely present and will enlighten the city. Remember in Matthew 23:37, Jesus looks over Jerusalem and says “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing”(Matt 23:37). It is Yahweh who makes Zion the recipient of this homage from the Gentiles.
Psalm 72 explains who this king of the Jews is. This king of the Jews rules in Yahweh’s name. This king represents justice and peace to Israel and the world at-large. The king is an extension of Yahweh. The king exercises divine judgment. He upholds vigorously the rights of the oppressed and the poor. It is Jesus Christ who completely fulfills this messianic psalm, not Solomon. This ideal king’s reign of justice and peace is infinite. All kings will worship Him. This king will provide special care to the needy, oppressed, poor, and weak. All tribes and nations will bless His name.
You see in these Old Testament Scriptures the universality of this king and his headquarters in Jerusalem (Zion). That leads to St. Paul’s message to the Ephesian Christian Church. St. Paul writes that the Holy Spirit is active in the apostles and prophets, who are the foundation of this Church. The message that St. Paul and the others share (St. Peter in Acts 10:44-48) is that the Gentiles are co-heirs in the inheritance that God has promised to the Jews. They share it in Jesus Christ. They are part of Jesus Christ’s Body, the Church. This church is Jesus’s Church, founded on the rock of St. Peter and the gates of Hell will not prevail against her. The Gentiles will have the same benefits, same spirit, and the same body. It is the Gentiles who will receive eagerly this message of salvation in Jesus Christ. The Jews will not.
All of this sets the stage for St. Matthew’s gospel reading. The main message is “to do Him homage”(Matt 2:2,8,11). The contrast in doing Jesus homage is the eagerness of the Magi (Gentiles) to do this and King Herod’s outright refusal to worship Jesus. This story of Epiphany is exhilarating and disappointing at the same time. Herod intends to kill the newborn King of the Jews. The Gentiles will accept and worship Him. St. Matthew’s gospel says the Magi “were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother”(Matt 2:11). “They prostrated themselves and did Him homage”(Matt 2:11). They worshiped Jesus, joyfully. From there, they offer Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold is usually presented as a gift to a king, which Jesus is, the newborn king of the Jews. The frankincense is presented to a deity, in the Christian world and the pagan world too. This child “will be called Son of God”(Lk1:35). The Magi prostrate themselves and “did Him homage”(Matt 2:11). The Magi were aware of the divinity of this child. Their gift of myrrh is for the mortality of this child, this newborn King of the Jews. Myrrh is a narcotic when it is mixed with wine. It is given to treat someone who is wounded. Myrrh is also a deodorant which is applied to a dead body.
All of this comes together in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, who is adopted by St. Joseph, the last in the bloodline of King David. Jesus Christ is priest, prophet, and king. Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine. He is a king who will be sacrificed on the Cross to forgive us of our sins. He is crowned in heaven and He is for all of us a savior who are included in His Church, this one. That includes both Jew and Gentile alike. I am saying all of this to remain faithful to the Sacred Scriptures which are part of this Epiphany. To do Him homage is the centerpiece. May we do Him homage eagerly like the Magi did and may we avoid the reaction of King Herod. That way, Jesus will enlighten us just as this ideal king would enlighten Jerusalem. Others will see us enlightened by Jesus when we conform ourselves to Him, crucify our sinful nature on His Cross, and invariably, show Jesus’s light and life in our own.
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