The Epiphany of the Lord
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13 (11)
Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
January 6, 2019
For our Masses on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, we heard the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke’s gospel. Our gospel reading for the Feast of the Holy Family was the story of the “Finding in the Temple,” also from Luke’s Gospel. Likewise, on the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, we read from Luke’s Gospel.
Today, that changes. Today we hear part of the Christmas story as told in Matthew’s Gospel.
Why? Because it tells us a different part of the story of Jesus’ birth. When we think of the Christmas story, we think of everything we know as one story. That’s the way it happened. It’s the way we depict in our nativity scene.
However, if you look at the gospels, you will not find all of the Christmas story in any one gospel. In fact, if you look at the Gospels of Mark and John, you will find none of the Christmas story there. Only Matthew and Luke tell us about the birth of Jesus.
Does that mean that Mark and John didn’t think the birth story was important? I doubt that. They may not have ever heard it.
How about Luke and Matthew? How come they don’t tell the whole story? First, remember they won’t have been there for Jesus’ birth. So, they had no first-hand knowledge of his birth. Secondly, we all tell stories from our own perspective. One classic example of this is when a number of people witness the same event but don’t tell identical stories. It might be because something was blocking our view. The angle of the sun might change what we see. Have you ever had a car that when it was cloudy looked one color but on a sunny day looked a different color?
The same is true in the gospels. Luke tells us about the shepherds at Jesus’ birth to show us that Jesus comes to save everything, including those of “lowly” status. Matthew also wants to show that salvation is for everyone but it is the Gentiles he emphasizes with the visit of the Magi.
The Magi, often referred to as kings, were not Jewish. They weren’t even local people. They came from another country. Yet, their hearts were opened such that when they saw the star, they knew it to be a sign that a new king had been born for the Jews. They knew this to be a great event and so they travelled to give Jesus homage.
What must not be lost in the story is that it is Gentiles, non-believers, who come to give Jesus homage, while the people of Jerusalem, hence Jews, were troubled by the news that a new king had been born. They should have been rejoicing at hearing that the Messiah had come but they didn’t. It wasn’t what they wanted to hear.
The visit of the Magi fulfills parts of what we hear in our first and second readings today. Isaiah writes about how people from foreign lands will come to offer praise and bearing gifts of “gold and frankincense.” The psalm says “all kings shall pay him homage.”
I want to turn now and focus on what it means to pay Jesus “homage.”
There are two definitions of “homage.” The first one listed is a person obliging his or herself to serve the “master” they are giving homage to. The second definition is to express “high regard”.
The Magi show “high regard” in prostrating themselves before Jesus, prostrating being an act of admitting the other’s greatness. They also show “high regard” for Jesus in the gifts they bring.
Do we give homage to God? How might we give homage?
The Magi did by prostrating before Jesus. We do it in church by at times bowing and other times genuflecting. We kneel for the Eucharistic Prayer understanding the profound sacrifice of Jesus giving his life for us and the sacred action of the consecration as the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus.
Even our standing can serve as a form of homage. We stand for the procession at the beginning of Mass as a sign of welcoming God into our lives with a royal welcome. We stand as we receive Communion as a sign that Jesus has lifted us up from our sins.
The Magi gave Jesus gifts. What do we give to Jesus? Money in the collection? Our time and our talents? Jesus sacrifices his life for us. What do we sacrifice for Jesus?
Going back to the “homage” I spoke about in kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer, I want to refer to the word “adore” in our responsorial verse. When we come to the words of consecration, I, as the priest, hold up first the consecrated host and then the consecrated wine. As I hold them each up, the altar server rings the bells. This is to draw our attention to the moment when Jesus is held up high for us to “adore.”
Let me now step away from what goes on at Mass to another ritual we offer in our parish, a holy hour with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus in the consecrated host (the Blessed Sacrament) is placed in the monstrance for us to see (Exposition). Looking at Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we adore Jesus (hence the practice of coming to Exposition is also called Adoration).
There are different forms of doing holy hours. There are always prayers. When a priest or deacon is present, there is Benediction at the end. We include scripture readings and a reflection. For our holy hours, the rest of the time (about 25 minutes) is quiet time for us to spend adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in whatever quiet way we want.
When I first started going to holy hours before I went to seminary, I went expecting “something incredible” to happen. I only came to enjoy holy hours when I stopped expecting “something incredible” and just opened myself to Jesus’ presence. I found that his simple presence was the “something incredible” I was looking for all along.
Today, when you hear the bells ring, look up at Jesus. Offer your adoration to him and bask in his presence.