To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3,5-6; Mt 2:1-12
Epiphany (Greek “Epiphaneia” “appearance or manifestation”) has been defined as the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi. The feast is also sometimes called the twelfth day as it is celebrated on the twelfth day after Christmas.
A story is told of three individuals who professed different religions who were discussing which religions was the right one. They could not come to any agreement and the discussion was turning into an argument. They decided to ask an old man who was sitting near for his opinion. He replied in these words, “Well, you know there are three ways to get from here to the flour mill. You can go right over the hill. That is shorter but it is a steep climb. You can go around the hill on the right side. That is not too far, but the road is rough and full of potholes. Or you can go around the hill on the left side. That is the longest way, but it is also the easiest.” He paused and then added, “But you know when you get there, the mill man doesn’t ask you how you came. All he asks is, ‘Man, how good is your wheat?’”
The choice of the Gospel text of today for the feast of the Epiphany underscores the truth that Jesus is God’s revelation not to a select few, but to the whole world. The magi or wise men or astrologers in Matthew are guided not only by pagan astrology but also by the scriptures. Revelation outside Scripture motivates them to obey the one God; yet, they do not find their way to Jesus without Scripture. This means that God, not the social or political structures of the day, is the source of our light. It teaches that openness and humility are necessary if we wish to read correctly the “signs of the times.” It insists that when we discover the “promised one,” we must be willing to offer him all that we have. The light has come, and we are invited to live in it. In contrast to the Jewish leaders, the magi act rather than merely hear. The gifts they offer; gold, frankincense and myrrh have taken to be symbolic of the royalty, divinity and the sacrificial death of Jesus, though Matthew does not give such an explanation. Also though Matthew does not mention the number who came to worship Jesus, they have been identified as three because of the three gifts.
What is more important for Matthew, however, is that the magi are Gentiles in the extreme, characters that could not be more remote from the Jews in heritage and worldview. Thus even at the very beginning of Jesus’ life, then, we see the dividing walls between races and cultures breaking down. Even here, at the beginning of the Gospel, the mission to all nations is anticipated.
Paul understood this mission perfectly as is evident in the second reading of today when he announces that the Gentiles are no longer outsiders but "fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." This is the Gospel that he preaches because he received it directly from God and this is the Gospel of which he is a minister. And that is the paradox that resides deep within Epiphany: we are made, through Christ, to be both those who bring our gifts to offer him and those who receive the gift of God's grace to be ministers and stewards of the Gospel ourselves. As Paul himself notes, this grace was given to him, the "very least of all the saints," so that he might share the "unsearchable riches of Christ" and help all people to know that it is God who creates all things -- not we ourselves.
This universal idea of mission is also spoken of in the first reading of today in which the prophet Isaiah promises a light full of hope. Jerusalem went through destruction and forced migration and is now in desperate need of rebuilding. He proclaims to the exiles that the darkness of despair has been lifted, and a new day of restoration has dawned. At last, the light has come! According to Isaiah, the glory of God will shine through Israel onto the other nations. The whole world will come to join in the new liturgy of the new Temple. The psalm echoes this idea when it speaks of justice flourishing and peace on all humankind. The poor, the needy and the weak will be heard and saved.
Epiphany seeks to remind us that we cannot and must not restrict or put our God in a pigeon hole. He is bigger than we can ever imagine and his mercy and forgiveness are not restricted to only a few but is available to all. Even as it does this the feast also challenges us to be today the star which guided the magi to the Christ child. It invites us to so shine that others who have not yet encountered God in Christ will be motivated to come and encounter him who in his love continues to sustain the world.