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The Epiphany of the Lord – Homily

The Epiphany of the Lord
Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13 (11)
Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12
January 5, 2020

At Christmas we heard that the shepherds were the first to hear the “good news of great joy” that “a savior has been born…who is Christ and Lord.”  However, the shepherds were not the only ones to visit Jesus.

Today, we hear of the visit of the magi.  We often call them the three wise men or the three kings, “three” because there are three gifts and “kings” because they fulfill what today’s psalm prophesizes.  Psalm 72 also prophesizes that “every nation on earth will adore” the Lord, “all kings shall pay him homage.

An important point to realize is that the magi are not Jews.  They are Gentiles yet they are drawn to see Jesus.  Their seeing Jesus tells us that the Gentiles are now to be “coheirs…copartners” in Jesus. 

Astrologers of those days believed that when a new king was born, a star arose to signify the birth.  Thus, one might suppose that the magi are simply curious or paying “standard” homage to a new king.  I believe what they do goes beyond that. 

Their interest is certainly more than King Herod’s.   Herod was a Jew so he should have been excited at the news but instead “he was greatly troubled” because he saw Jesus as a threat to his power.

Herod consults the “chief priests and the scribes” about “where the Christ was to be born.”  He then shares the information with the magi and sends them on their way, claiming that he wants to give Jesus homage.  This is a lie as he intends to kill Jesus.

Herod was troubled but as the magi resumed their journey, “they were overjoyed at seeing the star” again.  When they arrived at the house, “They prostrated themselves and did him homage.”  They knew him to be a king so their homage might seem ordinary.

I think there was something more here.  They were guided by the light to see Jesus.  Their homage reminds me of what Isaiah said in the first reading, “Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow.

Fulfilling Psalm 72, they offered gifts.  Fulfilling what Isaiah says in our first reading, the gifts included gold and frankincense.  One might suppose that these gifts were simply ordinary gifts for royalty.

Gold does indeed signify kingship.  It was rare and of great value, thus often not possessed by the average person.  Even today, gold symbolizes “value”.

Frankincense is similar to what we use as incense.  However, it is not simply smoke rising up.  The gift of frankincense symbolizes Jesus’ divinity.

Myrrh is an oil.  For Jesus, we might think of his anointing.  The word “Christ” means “anointed one.”  Kings were anointed but, in Jesus’ case, we might also think of how bodies were anointed at death.  As such, the gift of myrrh would prefigure Jesus’ Crucifixion for our sins.

The magi gave the first Christmas gifts to Jesus.  This is fitting as it is his birthday.  Today, many people exchange gifts with other people for Christmas.  The gifts given to one another are meant to symbolize our love and care for one another.

What about gifts between us and Jesus?

I remember one Christmas when I was probably nine or ten years old.  We were at one of my aunt’s house for Christmas.  After all the gifts were handed out, I noticed a card in an envelope on the tree with Jesus’ name on it.  I asked what it was there for.  My aunt said they always made sure they gave a gift to Jesus.

Fitting.  After all, it is his birthday.  Shouldn’t Jesus get a gift?

We exchange gifts with other people.  Shouldn’t we do the same with Jesus? 

You might wonder how we exchange gifts with Jesus.  First, how does Jesus give us gifts?

Jesus gives us the gift of his very life for us.  What more could we ask for?  But there is more!  Jesus keeps on giving!  He gives us grace to follow him.  This week I will begin a new series of presentations on how the Sacraments are channels of God’s grace. 

So, what can we give Jesus in return? 

What can a human being possibly give GOD as a gift?  Talk about a person who is impossible to shop for!

When we live in darkness, Jesus gives us the gift of light to walk by.  When we become radiant in Jesus’ light, He wants us to share that light with those around us.  This is a gift pleasing to the Lord.

Another gift we can give Jesus is our homage.  We show our gratitude for what God has given us through our praise.  We can do this in private prayer.  We can do this by speaking to others of how God has blessed us with gifts of grace.  Some see Mass only in terms of what they get out of it but Mass has at its core giving praise to God.

I spoke a moment ago about “gratitude.”  We receive various gifts from other people.  Are we always “thankful” for what we have been given?  We can show our gratitude, our “appreciation” for the gift by using it well.

Jesus gives you light. 

Jesus gives you grace.

Jesus gives us forgiveness through his Crucifixion.

Jesus gives you love.

Do you receive his light, grace, forgiveness, and love with gratitude, choosing to follow his ways?  Or are you upset that you didn’t get what you want?

God gives you infinite love.  All He wants in return is for you to love him back.

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