Today we celebrate the visit of the magi to the child Jesus. It is often referred to and celebrated as “Three Kings Day” especially in Latino and Mediterranean cultures. Its official name is Epiphany, from the Greek epiphania, meaning that which is revealed, unveiled. The meaning in Greek is reflected in our English language definition: (1): a usually sudden manifestation of the essential nature or meaning of something (2): an intuitive grasp of reality through something usually simple and striking (3): an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure. There is a certain excitement and energy that accompanies the moment of epiphany.
It’s just as the Prophet Isaiah described in the first reading. The people of Israel are in exile in Babylon. They are seeking answers: how did we get here, when can we go home, what will our return mean? Isaiah points ahead to an “epiphany” when the thick dark clouds roll back and Lord appears in glory. Isaiah tells them that their hearts will “throb and overflow” and they will “be radiant at what” they see. And their response will be a gift to others, in fact, to the whole world! It will be amazing, it will be life changing, nothing will ever be the same. Isaiah captures the essence of epiphany: a people who are seeking something – and it is not exactly clear, precise or defined – but they seek it nonetheless, even if only intuitively. They are waiting, hoping for it – whatever it is – to be revealed.
The magi are astrologers with a religious bent. They believed that the destiny of life was revealed in the stars – and the appearance of a new star meant that new, momentous things were afoot! In this case a “newborn king of the Jews.” Not without some knowledge did they set out to the west in search of this newborn king; but, certainly not with a clear, precise or defined understanding of their journey. They find Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus. And what did they see?
They saw a newborn. I mean, we have all seen newborns – and yes, they are the cutest thing ever. We take pictures, we compliment mom and dad, take some more pictures, leave our gifts, and we go home. It is a very nice experience. Life changing? Did dark clouds roll back and reveal the essential meaning of something? Was it illuminating in new and amazing ways? Did our hearts throb and overflow? In no way am I diminishing the wonder of a new-born and the joy its brings to the family, but as great as it is, it’s not an epiphany. But it was for the magi.
When they saw the newborn, they were “overjoyed…prostrated themselves and did him homage. They opened their treasures…” They understood there was something more than just a newborn who would be king. Their epiphany was that this child was Emmanuel, God-with-us, who would be savior and king of the world. They knew the refrain of today’s psalm would come to be: “Every nation on earth will adore you!” Their seeking led them to the Epiphany; their experience led them to give of their treasures.
Today we celebrate Epiphany – as we have for centuries. But I think we would be hard pressed to say we celebrate overjoyed, heart throbbing, as we open up our treasures. We have come to give homage to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but it is not our first celebration. Epiphany is not the same for us as it was for the magi. But Epiphany is also the journey, the seeking and willingness to share our treasures.
Let me give you a modern-day experience of a secular epiphanal moment: new product roll outs at Apple back in Steven Job’s day. When he revealed the iPhone, there was pandemonium, amazement, shouts of holy guacamole. Surely, the world was forever changed! No doubt, there was a hallelujah or too. Today, the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, has the unenviable task of the product reveal. There is applause with an occasional “ooh” and “aah” but it is not the same. What is the same is that people are seeking something, willing to follow, and willing to give their treasures to have it, to be part of it.
I think about our Epiphany of 2018, and this question that come to mind, have we lost the deeper richness of the Feast of the Epiphany because the unbridled amazement at the revelation of the Christ child is not a surprise to us?
There is a richness in the magi that were willing to follow that star, without precise or prefect understanding or information. Although I am sure they wanted to know, they did not ask “what the end game here,” or “what do I get out it?” They followed in hope. They saw the light, got up, and followed.
There is a richness in the magi in what they were willing to share of their time, talents, and treasures… not on a quid-pro-quo basis, but it hope of something that was only later to be revealed. They came to give of themselves.
We are not unlike the magi. We have our knowledge of Scripture, our faith. We are steeped in prayer and Eucharist. As Scripture says, we are equipped for every good work. What is your 2018 good work? Maybe you only have an intuition about it – not so precise or clear. Be like the magi, just do it. Begin the journey, follow the star. Maybe it leads to join St. Vincent de Paul, the Women’s Guild, the Men’s Prayer group, Knights of Columbus, Foster Care, feeding the hungry on Saturdays, faith formation for kids, or any manner of ministry in the name of Christ. Maybe it leads to a deeper commitment to prayer and study of God’s holy word.
Be like the magi. Just do it. Begin the journey. Bring along the gifts you already have. Be prepared to have the light of the Lord shine upon you and fill your hearts, overflowing with joy. We celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord in order to remind ourselves that our own epiphany lays in the journey ahead.
It is a new year. Begin your journey anew.