Yesterday we celebrated the feast of Epiphany, which means “manifestation”. We celebrate God’s manifestation of himself, not only to Israel, the people of his covenant, but now to all peoples, “the Gentiles [who] are co-heirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (second reading)
The Latin Church identifies Epiphany with the visit of the Magi to the Infant Jesus in Bethlehem. To these wise men from the East, Jesus manifested himself, not just as the newborn king of the Jews, but as the Savior of the World. In turn, the foreign visitors prostrated themselves in worship before the Child and offered their kingly gifts.
The Eastern tradition, on the other hand, celebrates Epiphany with the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, where he manifested himself as the Only-Begotten Son of the heavenly Father, consecrated by the Holy Spirit. The gospel of St. John also presents as Epiphany the Wedding at Cana, when by changing water into wine, Jesus “manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (Jn 2: 11).
Thus, “the great feast of Epiphany celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the wise men from the East, together with his baptism in the river Jordan and the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 528)
The feast of Epiphany is a wonderful reminder that God is a God of revelation. He wants to reveal himself to us because He wants us to know him. And more importantly, he wants us to know that he loves us. God reveals himself in many ways, through the Scriptures, the sacraments, the Church, the people and the events in our life.
The question is: do we recognize him? Unfortunately, what John says is true. “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to his own and his own did not receive him.” (Jn 1:11)
But the real problem is not that we do not recognize him. More often than not, we do. We read the scriptures, we know our catechism, we have our conscience. But like Herod and the chief priests and scribes of Jerusalem who knew where the Christ was to be born but did not go, we too can be paralyzed by our own indifference and lack of love. It takes more than knowledge and recognition to encounter the newborn Messiah and accept him as our Savior.
To encounter Christ is to embark on a journey, much like the magi’s, which demands from us attentiveness, courage and resolve. In reality, God manifests himself to us at every turn, and we need a discerning spirit to perceive his move. Thus, the need to be attentive. Here we see the importance of prayer and the scriptures.
As the journey of the magi was fraught with obstacles and opposition, so is our spiritual journey. Opposition can come from the dark forces (the devil is real) and from without. It can also come from within. As I’ve mentioned earlier, Herod and the religious leaders of Jerusalem knew where the Messiah was to be born, but, unlike the magi, they remained in Jerusalem. Many times, we are our greatest obstacle in our journey to God, by our indifference, complacency and laziness. Thus, the need for courage and determination.
Finally, we need a strong resolve to change because every true encounter with the Lord will only lead to conversion. Heeding the angel’s warning, the magi went home by a different route. Fulton Sheen comments, “No one ever comes to Christ and goes back the same way.”
While the journey of the magi was long and far, ours is an internal one. We first have to encounter Christ in our heart, if we are to recognize him in the world.
I remember a story about a boy who tearfully complained to the star, “How can I reach you when you are so far?” To which the star replied, “But I am already in your heart; otherwise, how else could you see me?”*