The word Epiphany comes from the Greek Epiphaneia which means appearance, apparition, revelation or manifestation. In the Church’s understanding Epiphany has to do with God’s revelation or manifestation of himself to the world in the person of Jesus Christ. This is a significant event through which God showed that He is the God of both Jews and Gentiles (Gal.3:28). After the visit of the shepherds (presumably Jews) to the new born child through the direction of the nativity angels, wise men from the East (Gentiles) also encountered the glory of God’s manifestation through Jesus Christ with the direction of the magnificent star.
Epiphany from our understanding here involves two important and inseparable strands namely, divine call and human response. God calls us to see and appreciate His gift of inestimable value (John 3:16).We respond by going to see and appreciate God’s gifts. How do we appreciate God’s gifts? We do so by giving God our own gifts. The greatest of these gifts is the gift of our whole being.
Today our attention is turned to the wise men from the east. There are many legends surrounding identity of these men. Some people refer to them as “three” wise men on account of the three gifts they brought not that the account of Matthew (2:1-12) recorded that they were three. In some translation they are called magi which refers to a caste within ancient Zoroastrian religion that were so knowledgeable in studying the movement of the heavenly bodies; some would thus liken them to astrologers while others still refer to them as kings.
We are more concerned about their mission than whom they are. The bible reported that they saw a star that was different from the usual as it indicated the birth of a great king. God has many ways of manifesting his presence. The letter to the Hebrews made reference to this when it says that:
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Heb.1:1-2).
Here we are presented with the fact that divine manifestation has been going on at various time and in various ways, but the one we are celebrating today sums up the whole gamut of divine revelation wherein the Word is made flesh and shown forth to the entire world. In the past God manifested himself to many people including Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Elijah, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zachariah in some mystical ways. But at the birth of Jesus Christ this manifestation takes a different shape. It was not like a vision or apparition but concretely tangible in the person of Jesus Christ born in a manger in that enclosure in Bethlehem.
Going back still to the visitors from the east we ask: “why were they called wise men?” Apart from their learning through which they acquired knowledge, they were also imbued with wisdom which ultimately comes from God. Another question will be: “was their wisdom before or after the visit to the new born king?” We have to explore these in what follows as to why they were referred to as wise:
1. They were called “wise men” because they could read the signs of time and were able to understand divine signs.
2. They were called “wise men” because they left the comfort of their homes and occupation to search for God. Hence they understood that God is above everything and He is worth searching for just as we cannot exchange Him for anything at all.
3. They were called “wise men” because they remained steadfast in their search, even when the star disappeared they were not discouraged. They sought assistance from Herod whom they presumed was wise.
4. They were called “wise men” because they listened and followed the advice of God through the angel not to return to Herod and to return to their base through another route.
5. They were called “wise men” because they offered gifts with great significance to the mission of Jesus Christ.
Wise men and women are still searching for God. When God calls they answer and make themselves available to Him. To answer God’s call there is need for one to leave one’s position to a new one. In all the examples of God’s call one thing remains consistent, the person called is expected to leave his or her position to a new one. There is a constant need for us to change our positions. The wise men left the comfort of their location in the east to respond to God’s call through the star they saw. In this New Year we are also called to change to a new position from the unproductive old one that had been the cause of our stagnation, pain and failure. For us to move to this new position we need to be insightful enough to see the star and to follow it to where it will lead us. We need to be in constant search for God. An attentive mind may quickly ask: “where can we search for God?” We can search for God in the following places:
1. In ourselves. God is in us. We are created in His own image and likeness.
2. In our fellow human beings. Whatever you do unto others that you have done unto me (Matt. 25:31).
3. In God Himself through His words and the sacraments.
There is a quick lesson we need to learn from the journey of the wise men. From the account we have from Matthew (2:1ff) they saw the star and followed it but by the time they came into the city of Jerusalem they could not see it again. It was then that they inquired from Herod about where the king of the Jews will be born whose star they saw earlier. Herod was ignorant of this notwithstanding his status as the king and he consulted the men of letters who confirmed the prophecy of the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem. Now immediately the wise men continued their journey to Bethlehem and their search for the new born king, the star appeared again and went ahead of them until it came to the place Christ was born. The lesson here is that we should never be discouraged when a situation does not seem to be favourable like it was in the past. These wise men were not discouraged; they stayed in the game. When profit is no longer forth coming like before in your business, stay in the game. When your family life seems to be facing turbulent times, stay in the game. When no one seems to appreciate your input at your workplace, stay in the game. The wise men could have turned back when the star disappeared and when the King could not understand what they were talking about; they stayed in the game and their mission was fulfilled as the star came out again. Sometimes your star would seem dim; do not worry, it will rise and shine again but you have to remain in the game.
Today as we celebrate the epiphany of the Lord; which tells us of the showing forth of Jesus Christ to the world, we ask ourselves what we show forth in our lives. What type of epiphany do we engage ourselves in? There many things people are showing forth in our day and age. Some have nudity to show, some have wickedness to show, some hatred, and other vices. We are challenged today to become imitators of God by showing forth love. That was actually the culmination of the epiphany; the manifestation of God’s love in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Have a fulfilling feast of epiphany and a blessed week ahead.