On Epiphany Sunday, we reflect on the Light of Christ – the Light who is Christ – which shines on all nations. As we read in Pope Francis’s Spiritual Reflection, Epiphany is “the celebration of the manifestation of Jesus, symbolized by light.” The liturgy explains in this feast that all nations are invited into the radiance of the saving promise of God. “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you!”
The identity of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, was revealed in stages. After a long period of preparation through the law and the prophets, when Jesus was finally born, a new Light pierced the darkness that covered the world. This Light shone first on Mary and Joseph, then on the shepherds, and then on the Magi, far off in “the east.” Today we focus on these Magi, popularly known as “the three kings.” They represent the Gentiles, or “the nations.”
In their deep longing to find the Messiah, the Magi pursue the Light, guided by the Star of Bethlehem, and they find Jesus in the humblest of surroundings, in a stable with his poor parents, Mary and Joseph. We can imagine that at first this may have been a surprise, even a disappointment. There is no hint of hesitation in the Gospel, however. Rather, we learn that the Magi were so “overjoyed at seeing the star” that they quickly overcame any doubts and entered the unlikely dwelling of the newborn King. It was probably dark in the stable, but interiorly the glory of the Child was revealed to them. They responded by paying him homage, laying their treasures before Jesus, gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, which have symbolic meaning: gold represents Christ’s kingship, frankincense his divinity, and myrrh his humanity, especially his death.
In today’s first reading, Isaiah declares to Jerusalem, “Rise up in splendor! Your light has come!” He foretells the restoration of the holy city. The image radiates with an overwhelming beauty that reflects the glory of God. While Isaiah proclaims that many nations will come together to worship the Lord in Jerusalem, in fact, this prophecy is about much more than the earthly city; it foretells a “light” that will shine on all nations. “Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.”
St. Paul reflects on the universality of the Gospel in his Letter to the Ephesians, where he explains that the Gentiles are now “coheirs” with the Jews. They are “members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” How does Paul know this extraordinary mystery? It was made known to him by revelation. And he was given the task of making it known to others, especially to the Gentiles. This was the “stewardship of God’s grace” that was given to Paul. Now this task is entrusted to the whole Church. Our mission is to make Christ known to all nations. We are all called – whether we are poor, lowly shepherds or rich, cultured Magi – to receive the gift of salvation in Christ and to share it with others.
The Magi teach us to “search diligently” for the Truth, to humble ourselves before the Lord, no matter where we find him, and to offer him our treasures. They also teach us that finding him changes the whole course of our lives. They were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, that is, not to let their hearts be hardened like Herod’s by fear or doubt, so “they departed for their country by another way.” Pope Francis reflects on this life-changing experience of the Magi: “Each time that a man or woman encounters Jesus, he or she changes paths, returns to life in a different way, returns renewed, ‘by another road.’ They returned ‘to their own country,’ bearing within them the mystery of that humble and poor King.”
The “mystery of that humble and poor King” is the Good News that we have received and that we carry into the world. By laying our treasures at his feet, we are set free from any attachment to them, so that we too can be humble and poor, like our King. Our security is not in anything we own or anything we do; it is not in our old ways or in our earthly wisdom. Our new treasure, our deepest security, is Jesus himself. As we offer him our homage, we proclaim: “Jesus, I trust in you!”
What are my treasures that I lay down at the feet of the Baby Jesus? Having received the gift of salvation in Christ, how do I share it with others? What impels me to find security in my old ways or in earthly wisdom and not in Jesus himself?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.