Encountering an epiphany

No matter how great the desire to foresee the future, to know what lies in store tomorrow and beyond, to anticipate and to know what yet awaits for gain or loss, prescience is for God alone. Life is a journey which requires countless course corrections without benefit of either map or direction.

The Epiphany of the Lord

For us, the future will always remain unknowable and while that can be exciting and intriguing—providing opportunities to exercise our free will—it can also be terribly frightening and daunting, even at times resulting in course reversal, seeking the nearest sanctuary.

There are moments when we must choose another road or move in new directions. It is in such moments—when fear, anxiety, and doubt grasp the heart and soul with their dark, cold hands—that epiphanies are so often met, moments which demand proper reception and acceptance to what they may have to offer. Epiphanies occur when least expected, thus preparation is required.

Traditionally we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord each year on January 6th, commemorating when Magi, wise men from the East arrived to give homage to the newborn king of the Jews. Although there is a more mundane meaning of epiphany: a sudden and profound understanding of something.

And yet, there is an even deeper meaning of epiphany for which we should consider: when God appears, or comes present to us. We seldom think of such moments as epiphanies and yet perhaps it would be wise for us to ponder those times when God has been most present in our lives: guiding us, carrying us, lifting us up, encouraging us to change direction, filling our souls with love and our hearts with courage.

Epiphany is about changing course, going in a new direction and it happens to all of us.  It happened to the Magi and the shepherds and it happens to each of us during our all too brief temporal lives.

The Magi, who came from the east, followed the star westward. They left the familiar and traveled toward the unknown. They had nothing but the star to guide them and had no idea where it would lead them or how long the journey would take. Yet they made the journey.

Their journey assuredly contained all the essential elements of high drama: a long journey—guided by the sudden appearance of a star—filled with unknown dangers, visions and dreams, daring escapes, and murderous threats.

The Magi represent what is the noblest in and of mankind. They were, by all accounts, men of science, philosophy, and astrology; men seeking the truth. Their search drove them to alter the course of their lives, to travel westward to a foreign land, to see for themselves what came to them in their dreams.

They made the journey, despite the unknowns and the dangers, to give homage, not to the great and powerful but to a newborn child born in a stable. On their journey, they met with Herod, then king of the Jews, inquiring where they might find the newborn king. Herod had long ruled Israel through subterfuge and unwavering cruelty, but his paranoia and psychopathic fear of any potential usurpation went well beyond reason. He was irrationally threatened by the mere thought of a poor defenseless powerless child of whom foreigners imputed to be the newborn king of the Jews.

Thus, we are told that the Magi, having been warned in a dream, “departed for their country by another way,” not just geographically, but with an entirely new perspective on life and God. They traveled with a new spirit, filled with wonder, awe, and thanksgiving for having met their savior. They came and gave homage to God Incarnate and were changed forever.

What the Magi experienced was an encounter with God, an epiphany most profound. They discovered truth in the Incarnate Word and gave due homage to him who would be king. God was present to them and they knew it without demurral, doubt, or hesitation.

There are elements to this familiar Gospel passage which cry for greater explication. First, we find early Christian kerygma describing the messianic genealogy of Jesus and the prophetic pronouncement that he would be born in Bethlehem, the city of David, near the end of the reign of Herod the Great.

Kerygma is a Greek word found in the Gospels of Luke (LK 4:18-19) and Matthew (3:1) and in the Letter to the Romans (10:14). Generally translated as “preaching” it is related to the Greek verb κηρύσσω kērússō which literally means “to cry or proclaim as a herald” used in the sense of “to proclaim, to announce, or to preach.” Some sources further define kerygma as “the apostolic proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Widespread Hellenistic belief within the early Church held that the source of wisdom came from the East where the Magi originated. The star was a well-known symbol for the Messiah, as found in Numbers 24:17 “I see him, though not now; I behold him, though not near: A star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel, …” This text played a prominent role at Qumran, shaping the story of the Magi prior to Matthew’s account.

While not explicitly referenced by Matthew, other Old Testament texts influenced the formation of the Gospel narrative. We can see that the presentation of gold, frankincense, and myrrh are clearly based upon the first reading from Isaiah as well as from Psalm 72. Only the formulaic quotation from Micah 5:1 can be attributed to the evangelist with any degree of certainty. Finally, we must note that while the thought of the Magi being Gentiles—although underscored at least as early as the 10th-century in the illuminated Latin Gregorian Sacramentary—is not emphasized in the narrative itself, it most assuredly is present in the Old Testament Scriptures that precede it.

One of the three great Cappadocian Fathers, Basil the Great, spoke of the Epiphany with these words: “’The star came to rest above the place where the child was. At the sight of it the wise men were filled with great joy’ and that great joy should fill our hearts as well. It is the same as the joy the shepherds received from the glad tidings brought by the angels.

Let us join the wise men in worship and the shepherds in giving glory to God. Let us dance with the angels and sing: ‘To us is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord. The Lord is God and he has appeared to us,’ not as God which would have terrified us in our weakness, but as a slave in order to free those living in slavery.

Could anyone be so lacking in sensibility and so ungrateful as not to join us all in our gladness, exultation, and radiant joy?

Stars cross the sky, wise men journey from pagan lands, earth receives its savior in a cave. Let there be no one without a gift to offer, no one without gratitude as we celebrate the salvation of the world, the birthday of the human race.”

Every day we start anew, with expectations for what lies ahead but with an awareness that circumstances may require us to move in a different and unanticipated direction. At times, we may be forced to swerve or slow down for potholes or bumps in the road—like a chance encounter with a stranger, a passing billboard message, or even a gentle breeze. Or we may encounter a major obstacle that forces us to choose a different path, such as the loss of a job, a sudden illness, or even the death of someone whom we love.

And yet Epiphany reminds us that despite our uncertainties and doubt, despite the frequent and unexpected course corrections, roadside assistance is always available. We may never have a star to guide us as did the Magi or have heavenly hosts give us directions as did the shepherds but we can trust that God will show us the way if only we open our hearts and minds to an epiphany.



Homily #104
The Epiphany of the Lord (A)
Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:2-3A, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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