There always seems to be something apparently ethereal about the feast of the Epiphany that the church celebrated yesterday. Here, we read of an insecure and scheming despot, men of mysterious origins looking at the heavens for signs and directions, receiving communications via dreams to go to somewhere there is something to discover, and our minds are filled with images that are unearthly and unnerving; and something perhaps subtle and sublime. The creative minds of artists have been moved to conjure up graphic images that evoke the sense that there is something more than meets the eye.
While the scriptures say nothing of three men, but only of three gifts that were presented, tradition seems to favour the idea that three different men carried the three symbolic gifts. But we lose the significance of the event of this meeting if we focus on the little periphery details, which is often the case. What is THE significance then? It is this - The Epiphany, which literally means the “manifestation”.
What was being manifested, which was hitherto hidden and kept rather silent, was the wonder of the incarnation when God and man met in Jesus’ birth. That God deemed humankind the necessary conduit and recipient of salvation was now something that needed to be proclaimed to all and sundry, no longer something that was reserved for an elite few. That, is the “matter” of the Epiphany.
The command and invitation given to all at the end of every Mass is precisely this – to dare to imitate the courageous and prophetic Magi to first of all encounter the holy, and then from here, to bring the wonder of salvation to every heart and soul that has yet to encounter the salvation which we have just received unworthily at the Holy Communion given to us. In this sense, the Epiphany is not just a feast that we observe and celebrate one day a year, but at every moment that we are aware that we bring with us from the Altar of Sacrifice something much more precious than Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. We bring with us the one who was the recipient of these gifts of deep significance himself. We bring the Christ.
It is far easier to want to stay at the warm and safe place where the infant king is found and not depart from the presence of the Lord. After all, the outside world poses threats aplenty and few appreciate the ways that the Lord displaces their self-centered universes. Later in his adult years, the grown infant would remind his disciples that no prophet is accepted in his own country. And if we really have been prophetic in our actions, we would have experienced just how painfully true this is.
What makes one ready to be like the Magi after every Eucharist? Perhaps we have overlooked one thing about the Magi and their actions when they came before the infant King. We are told that they opened their treasures. They didn’t give just a little of what they brought. They emptied the entire contents of what they had been carrying with them for the journey thus far. What they had with them, they gave of the fullest. How much we need to learn from this kenotic act.
Much of our hearts, yours and mine, are often filled with so many preoccupations and thoughts of the self and needless worries when we come to celebrate the Eucharist. Surely, we could learn a thing or two from the Magi about how to open these bags and satchels and duffel bags of our worldly preoccupations so that they can be filled with the grace that a true encounter with the Lord can provide.
I believe that if we have truly encountered the Lord, be it at Mass or in some other way, we will naturally want to share this wonderful experience with another so that the joy can be expanded, so that there is a larger experience of the reality of salvation. This the Magi did in an extraordinary way. They “epiphanized”.
And this is what we too need to do.
Now, like the Magi, we need to go back to our lives in ways that are new and with eyes that see the ordinary in an extraordinary way. Who knows - we will probably see paths that we never saw before and see beauty and life and love anew.