Homily for the Feast of the Epiphany, Year A 2013-14
Homily for the Epiphany of the Lord, Year A 2014
[Bishop Ron’s collected homilies for the last year A can be found on Amazon.com for under $10. It is called “Teaching the Church Year”.]
Most of us have not seen all three of the gifts of the Wise Men – gold, frankincense and myrrh, so I brought some in today for us to have a look, but particularly in the context of the story we are told today on this Feast of the Epiphany. I will be concentrating predominately on the Gospel today from Matthew though I will try to tie in the other readings as well.
Kar Rohner in a sermon he gave on this feast made what I think is a really interesting and insightful point. He noted that the feast of the Epiphany is at the end of what we still call Christmas, and that there is a circular pattern set up with the Feast of Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany. On the Feast of Christmas God came to us and gifted us. On the Feast of the Epiphany we came to God and gifted God.
If we think about that for a moment we can get overwhelmed by the beauty and symmetry of it. God lowered who God is, and came to earth in the lowest of human forms – a baby, helpless and fragile. God who is all powerful, all-knowing, became one of us in our most primitive form. If that wasn’t gift enough, God came bearing the gift of grace that Paul tells us about in the Epistle to the Ephesians today, and that we receive not through any merits of our own, but simply because God loves us and chooses to give us this.
On Epiphany we celebrate the reverse. The three Wise Men or Kings as they are sometimes known as, left everything behind them – they left their country of origin, their wealth, their families. Through their astrology they knew that something wonderful was at the end of the journey, so they were willing to travel far, taking a difficult journey, led by a star that had appeared in the night. They somehow knew that the star that recently glowed in the sky foretold the birth of a mighty King, a special person, someone destined to be great. And so they were willing to make the perilous journey. On the way they encountered the machinations of a jealous king and were thrust into a political situation that didn’t want to be part of. But they continued. They persevered because there was this end in sight. Would they have been surprised to see their journey end at such a humble stable? A helpless child? Two simple parents?
Even if they were surprised, they offered the child gifts, just as the child was to offer himself for us. Gold, frankincense and myrrh. Whether these were actual gifts or the Gospel’s writer’s way of making a theological point, we can see these gifts in retrospect as symbolizing love, worship of God and suffering – all three of which point to the life of the child before them.
The story of the Wise Men may or may not have factually happened. It may have come from the inspired imagination of Matthew through the prophecies of Isaiah that we read today – “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Is 60.3) and “They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.” (Is 60:6) But the truth still remains. Nations have come to know the Lord, and they know God through Jesus Christ’s suffering, his love and his obedience to God.
What can we see of this in our lives today? Like the Wise Men we are on a journey as well. And if we are to have happy, fulfilled lives, we have to know the end of that journey. We have to see the star that tells us that our God is at the end of that journey waiting for us, and maybe not in the way we even imagine it. If we keep that end in sight, we can put up with the perilous journey that we take through life, the ups and downs of our relationships, the suffering and sickness, the plunderers, the sins that pull us down and weigh heavy on us, the depressions that we sometimes sink into. How do we keep going? What sustains us through all the bad parts of life? It is knowing what the end will be and how we can give God the gift of ourselves – our love, our praise, our sufferings. As the Psalmist says today: God delivers the needy one who calls…and saves the lives of the needy.” (Ps 72:12-13) And we are indeed needy on our journeys through life.
Let the Feast of the Epiphany remind us of the Star that points out the end of that journey, and let us offer God our gold, frankincense and myrrh – our love, our praise and our suffering. Then we can enjoy life forever with God, and as Isaiah says today: “Then shall you see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice.” (Is 60.5) And this is the very Good News that is our Star to guide us on this journey. God has indeed blessed us!
Bishop Ron Stephens
Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese
Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA