Seeing the Signs

Jan 7, 2018: Christmastide — the Epiphany of the Lord

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalms 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-13
Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12

In today’s liturgy, the Three Magi come from afar bearing gifts because they see the signs in the stars that a great king has just been born, great enough to warrant leaving their countries behind to see him and pay him homage. The very fact of their arrival is the sign of something even greater.

Today’s First Reading speaks of how Jerusalem will be radiant when the Lord shines upon it, so much so that Jerusalem will attract others to the Lord by its light. We can liken Christ to the filament of an incandescent bulb: without Him, there would be no light at all. A filament needs a bulb. We can liken Israel to the glass bulb. When Our Lord assumed human nature He chose a place, time, and a people in which to become flesh, and that people, prepared by the Father, is Israel. Together they became a great source of light. Like a light bulb, that illumination is not just for Israel alone. That Light would draw all nations to itself until they too reflected that light. Isaiah said it would attract attention and gifts, a foreshadowing of the coming of the Three Magi.

In today’s Second Reading Paul recalls that all nations, not just Israel, would be able to benefit from the promises Our Lord has made through the Gospel. Israel thought for a long time that salvation was reserved to them alone and that the Messiah would only come to save and lead them. In the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s letters, we see the fledgling Church struggling with understanding that the Gospel was not just for the Jews, but also for everyone. Paul received the revelation, along with the Apostles, that their mission was to the Gentiles, not just the Jews. In Jesus Christ, the divisions between Jews and Gentiles would end. Jesus Christ has called all of humanity to His light. The Three Magi’s arrival at Bethlehem recorded in today’s Gospel is the first signs of that fact.

Today’s Gospel teaches us that the light of Jesus Christ extends farther than we could ever imagine. The Three Magi represent all the peoples of the earth seeing that light in the distance — the distance of their situation, of their cultural differences — and heading toward it. A distant light, a star, became a beacon that led them to Jerusalem. The prophecy regarding Bethlehem led them closer to their goal, and then the star itself ushered them to the baby Jesus. Because astrology was not enough, the Three Magi needed help understanding the prophecies to keep going forward. Whereas Our Lord assumed human nature in a specific place and culture, that fact presented a gap to be overcome. Thanks to this episode, we know that Christ’s light reaches to all the nations, and leads us above and beyond our own cultures. All the nations of the earth can benefit from His light.

What Is An Epiphany? We celebrate Epiphany as the first manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, represented by the Three Magi coming from distant lands. The word “epiphany” originally meant a manifestation or appearance of something, often a divine being. Today, when people have an “epiphany,” it also means they have had a sudden insight into the deeper meaning of something. In the Epiphany, we see all these meaning come into play. It presents a realization that the Messiah was not just for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles. The stars and prophecies, signs from the heavens made by God and inspirations of the Holy Spirit, both point to a great king being born. The Three Magi themselves coming to pay homage to a newborn king is also an epiphany: it gave a sudden insight into the deeper meaning of the Messiah.

We are called to make Jesus Christ our Guiding Star. People seeking a higher meaning to things in all the wrong places plague today’s culture. Astrology was not enough for the Three Magi, and it never goes the distance. People consult horoscopes, fortunetellers, Tarot cards, Ouija boards. They think they can wrest meaning out of higher mysterious forces. Not only does Church teaching condemn all those things as the sin of divination, they are absurd, and not because what you might think. If we believe God is the Creator of Heaven and earth, and He came in Person to teach us and save us, why do we think we need gimmicks to understand His will for our lives? He has already given us all the answers we need in Sacred Scripture. We just have to ask Him. The Three Magi needed a little help understanding the prophecy to move forward. God has also blessed us with His Church to help us understand His will. Sometimes we need a little guidance to see that it may not be that God is not answering, but that we don’t like what He is trying to say. Through His Word and His Church, Jesus Christ can be our guiding star.

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