The birth of any child is an Epiphany, i.e. a manifestation of the loving mercy of God, who gives us the gift of new life, a life made in his image and likeness. Many of you here this morning will know what Mary and Joseph felt like when they saw visitors arrive to see the newborn baby. They can't have been surprised when a group of shepherds came the night of his birth, though their message, given to them by the angels, of the birth of a saviour caused Mary to ponder and treasure in her heart everything she knew about her child, his conception by the working of the Holy Spirit and the fact that she had remained a virgin even after his birth. Then, there was his name, Jesus, the Holy Name given to Joseph by an angel in a dream.
But now, twelve days after that night, there come wise men from the east bringing gifts. They tell their story of how they have followed a star and have come to do homage to the infant King of the Jews. Expecting to find him in a palace in Jerusalem rather than in a stable at Bethlehem, they visit King Herod, asking to see the child. Herod is taken by surprise and tries to trick the wise men so as to discover who and where this child is. Not only that but out of fear for the loss of his status, he conspires to kill all male children born in the last two years. The wise men continue to follow the star until it comes to rest over the place where the child was. "The sight of the star, " writes St Matthew, "filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary and falling to their knees they did him homage." Then they open their treasures and offer him their prophetic gifts, gold for a king, incense for a god and myrrh for his burial,
The three gifts must have given Mary a great deal more to ponder over and to treasure, but soon the flight into Egypt, to protect the life of her child and living as a refugee will give her more to think about, preparing her for his passion and death thirty years hence. But what happened to the wise men? St Matthew simply says, "They were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way." God spoke to them in a dream just as he spoke with Joseph. While Joseph takes Mary and Jesus as migrants to Egypt and not back to Nazareth, the wise men return home "by a different way." Now that could simply mean that to avoid seeing Herod again, they took another route, but the word "way" always has a more significant meaning in the New Testament. One day Jesus will say, "I am the Way," and in the early Church, Christians became known as "followers of the Way." So, the way the wise men took was Christ himself. They had recognised the babe in the manger to be God Incarnate and had knelt down in worship. What had been revealed to them in this great manifestation of God's love and mercy would guide their lives as it does our lives today.
The feast of the Epiphany, the greatest of all Christian feasts but Easter itself - in fact, the Epiphany is known as Easter in Winter - celebrates all three manifestations of the Incarnate Son of God: the coming of the wise men, the Baptism of Jesus in the waters of the Jordan by St John the Baptist, who bore witness to that vision of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the first miracle or sign of Jesus, when, at Cana in Galilee, he transformed water into wine, thus revealing his glory for the first time. It also celebrates the gift of faith that leads to Baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus and the Eucharist, the Sacrifice of the Mass, in which we receive his sacred Body and Blood and are conformed to his passion and death. The water and blood that flow from his wounded side as he hangs on the Cross will help us to understand the full meaning of these events. The Epiphany also teaches us the immense gratitude with which we should receive the gift of new life, children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, a neighbour's child, any child whatever the circumstances, and to appreciate our vocation to seek and find God himself present in what is most fragile and vulnerable.
"The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory as of the only-Begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth." On behalf on the monastic community, I wish you all a very happy and a holy Epiphany. Amen.