Is. 60:1-6; Ps. 72; Eph. 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt. 2:1-12
(Audio recorded live, 3 January 2021)
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ephiphany of the Lord, the great and solemn day when the magi from the east followed the Star of Bethlehem and encountered the Christ child. The recent celestial events of the planetary conjunction are a reminder of what it may have been like to follow a star. Perhaps some of us even got up extra early in the morning just to look up at the heavens and see this extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime event. That a light in the sky is the sign that leads the magi to Christ is no accident. In fact, it is precisely what makes the Epiphany significant.
Our Gospel today is packed full of historical and prophetic meaning. In it, we learn that the newborn king of the Jews was prophesied to come from Bethlehem; we learn of Herod’s jealousy and concern at the fulfillment of this prophesy and the threat it poses to his own rule (Matthew tells us Herod was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him); we also learn of the great joy that the magi had while encountering Jesus. Perhaps most important of all, after paying their homage and leaving their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they return not to Herod, but rather, they depart for their country by another way. They do so because of a warning they received in a dream.
The significance of dreams in Matthew’s Gospel ought not to be overlooked. The Angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph in a dream encouraging him not to be afraid to take Mary his wife into his home; today we heard how the magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod; and soon thereafter, the angel appears to Joseph in a dream warning him to flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath. God speaks to us in our dreams and sends us his holy angels to protect and guide us. In the case of the magi, their encounter with the baby Jesus opened their hearts and minds to a deeper realization of God’s presence. Such a realization is called an epiphany, and it left the magi forever changed, which is why they departed for their country by another way.
In the Early Christian Church, the Christians all devoted themselves to ‘the Way.’ This movement arose from Jesus’ own statement in the Gospel of John: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). The magi, having come from the east, were pagans. But, now they were departing by another way. Their encounter with the Lord helped them to realize that while their faith in the stars had led them to Christ, the infant in the manger would lead them to the Father.
All this is to say that while many may place their faith and trust in human institutions of authority and power, while many may look to the heavens for a sign, we Christians need look no farther than Christ. Our search is over, for we have already encountered Christ. We do so whenever we gather together in His Name; we do so whenever we actively pursue His Way; we do so whenever we approach the altar of sacrifice to receive him in the Most Blessed Sacrament. And so, as we assemble in worship on this great day of revelation to encounter the Word-Made-Flesh, may our communion open our minds to the awesome gift of Emmanuel, God-with-us, and may we leave this Church transformed, turning from former ways and embracing the true Way of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Given during the COVID-19 pandemic.