Epiphany 2014 

 "It was by a revelation that I was given the knowledge of the mystery." That is how St Paul describes the gift of faith to the Ephesians.  In Matthew's Gospel that same gift of faith is explained in another way: "We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage." That is how the Wise Men describe it to King Herod when they arrive in Jerusalem enquiring, "Where is the infant king of the Jews?" The Prophet Isaiah also spoke of that gift but in these terms, "Above you the Lord now rises and above you his glory appears, though night still covers the earth and darkness the peoples." The Wise Men followed a star and yet, centuries before, Isaiah told the people of Israel that the Lord himself would rise and shine, bringing light and life to his people and to all those who "lift up their eyes and see." "It means" writes St Paul, "that the pagans now share the same inheritance, that they are parts of the same body."  

"The sight of the star filled them with delight." What was that delight? - A spirit of joy and thanksgiving, of peace and of hope, a sense of fulfilment. The journey of the Magi is, in fact, the Exodus of the Gentiles, an exodus from the darkness of separation, ignorance, idolatry and paganism to the light of revelation and the knowledge of God, he who is life and the very source of life. The gift of faith always requires a journey, a pilgrimage: from Ur of the Chaldeans to Canaan, from Egypt to the Promised Land, from Nazareth to Bethlehem, from distant lands to Jerusalem. The physical journey is but the manifestation of an inner and more intimate journey of grace and conversion, a journey from self-centredness and the worship of self to the knowledge, love and worship of God. "Falling to their knees they did him homage." 

Now the Wise Men could have come all the way to Jerusalem only to listen to Herod and follow his example. The shepherds could have stayed in the fields with their sheep. Mary and Joseph could have said, "No," to the bidding of the angel. St Paul could have rejected that revelation on the road to Damascus. The disciples did indeed abandon Jesus at Gethsemane. It was only the experience of Easter that ultimately convinced them that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah. 

Christmas and the Epiphany together constitute the celebration of the Easter Mystery "in the bleak mid-Winter", just as the star over the manger is a light that shines in the darkness. The Epiphany, a much more important feast than Christmas, has always been known as "Easter in Winter". The wood of the manger soon becomes the wood of the Cross and the cave at Bethlehem replaced by an empty Tomb. The title given to Jesus by the Magi, "King of the Jews" will be used by Pontius Pilate and nailed to the Cross with Jesus. The star leading the Wise Men will give way to the dawning light of Easter. Their question, "Where is he who is born?" will be echoed by that of Mary Magdalene, "Where have you put him?" Just as today the Magi kneel down and do homage, so Peter will jump naked into the water, when he hears the Beloved Disciple say, "It is the Lord," and Thomas, falling to his knees, will cry out, "My Lord and my God." 

Today we celebrate the threefold revelation of the Mystery of Salvation. Not only do the Kings present their prophetic gifts to the Christ-child; Jesus is baptised by John in the waters of the Jordan and at the Wedding Feast of Cana water is transformed into wine. But what can this mean for us today? St Leo the Great answers that question in a homily he preached a millennium and a half ago: 

"The gifts the Magi first brought to Bethlehem are still being offered by all who come to Christ in faith. When we acclaim Christ as King of the universe we bring him gold from the treasury of our hearts; when we believe that the only-begotten Son of God has become one with our human nature, we are offering myrrh for his embalming; and when we declare him to be equal in majesty to the Father, we are burning the incense of our worship before him." 

Dear friends, if we listen to Jesus and do what he tells us, then we will be filled with his Spirit and the water of our humanity will change into wine of his divinity; we will see God, not lying in a manger but face to face in the glory of the Kingdom. That is where the star is leading us.