Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12
Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, God manifesting himself to the entire human race. Our celebration of Christmas Day marked the revelation God made to the chosen people of Israel that their Messiah had come. The angel proclaimed his message to simple souls, poor shepherds in the field tending their flock through the night hours. A Savior has been born to you who is Christ the Lord. Christ, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Messiah”, the anointed one of God who had been promised by the prophets of old.
But today, the Feast of the Epiphany, marks the revelation God made to the pagan nations, to non-Jews, to all outside the Law of Moses, to the uncircumcised and to men and women of every race. The very word “epiphany” is not Jewish but Greek, meaning a “manifestation”, an appearance of a very important person of high rank and authority in the world.
These foreign visitors who appeared to King Herod were not members of the chosen people. They were magi, wise men who studied the stars for messages about the future of the world. These magi knew that a very important person had appeared as a newborn king of the Jews. Why a Jewish king was someone important in their world is not clear. Judea was of no significance in the Roman Empire. A new king of the Jews would not be a particularly earthshaking event. What wisdom brought these magi to this somewhat God-forsaken corner of the Roman imperial world? A king, they claimed–no more than an infant at that. The stuff of mere legends indeed! But come, those magi did, travelling a vast distance from the east to this wretched, backwater of a country. Their arrival created quite a stir in the rustic palace of King Herod. You bet Herod was troubled! This so-called “king of the Jews” was no descendent of his. The term that came immediately to his mind was an usurper of his throne, as subsequently tragic actions of Herod made clear.
And in such unpredictable fashion as this, the wisdom of God achieves his divine purpose for the salvation of the human race. Those pagan magi were recipients of God’s revelation, not the sacred priests and scribes of Israel. Those Jewish priests were surely as troubled as Herod was. But they did have an answer for the wise men where the newborn king might be found: in Bethlehem of Judea as the prophet had foretold. What they really resented was that this had not been told to them, but to some uncircumcised foreigners, unclean pagans who lived outside the Law. And thus the wisdom of God continues to operate in our midst, confounding the wise of this world and revealing himself to the simple and those sincere of heart.
Is not this the message of the Epiphany? To whom do we see God revealing himself? Not to kings, or priests, or the authorities, but to the poor, to the despised, to those unfit in the eyes of the world. They are the ones who see the face of God and not those who consider themselves to be deserving; rather, those who are humble about their worth, those who know that they need God, those who ask for his mercy.
Am I one who asks God for his mercy? Mercy for our poor, suffering world? For all men and women of every race? “Lord have mercy”–that’s no mere slogan. Am I one of those who long for and begs God’s mercy on me?
“There he goes again, speaking about God’s mercy!” I must talk about God’s great mercy. This is our Jubilee Year of our heavenly Father’s mercy. Two days ago, new year’s day, Pope Francis opened the Holy Door of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome where the ancient painting, the Salus Populi is displayed. The Holy Virgin Mary with her divine Son as the salvation of the people–one of the most visited spots by the Roman citizens themselves. We are indeed a people of mercy–we all live by God’s mercy and we show his mercy to one another, ourselves an epiphany of God to the world.