Breaking Open the Word

January 3, 2021


Solemmity of the Epiphany



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We often think of Epiphany as a simple story about camels and wise men from the East.  But the word “epiphany” means manifestation and this feast celebrates the revelation of God in Jesus. 


In the first reading, Isaiah stresses the manifestation of God’s glory and the universal scope of salvation.   This passage is a vision of Jerusalem restored, a vision meant to encourage the returnees from the Babylonian exile who were struggling to rebuild their temple, their city and their nation. 


In the second reading, Paul provides crucial insight that the Gentiles were to be full participants in Christ along with the Jews.   This message fits well with today’s feast and its focus on Christ’s revelation to all nations.  


In the Gospel, today we switch from reading Luke’s infancy narrative to reading Matthew’s story of the Magi.  In Luke, Jewish shepherds are the first to recognize and adore Jesus.   In Matthew, however, Gentile wise men have this role.  


Gospel Explained

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The visit of the Magi occurs directly before the story of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt.   We know little about the Magi.   They come from the East and journey to Bethlehem, following an astrological sign, so we believe them to be astrologers.  We assume that there were three Magi based upon the naming of their three gifts.   The Gospel does not say how many Magi paid homage to Jesus.  In Matthew’s Gospel, they represent the Gentile’s search for a savior.   Because the Magi represent the entire world, the also represent our search for Jesus. 


We have come to consider the gifts they bring as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ role in salvation.   We believe the meaning of the gifts to be Christological.   Gold is presented as representative of Jesus’ kingship. Frankincense is a symbol of his divinity because priests burned this substance in the temple.   Myrrh, which was used to prepare the dead for burial, is offered in anticipation of Jesus’ death.    


Today’s Theme:

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The word epiphany means “manifestation” or “showing forth.”  Historically several moments in Christ’s early life and ministry have been celebrated as “epiphanies,” including his birth in Bethlehem, the visit of the Magi, his baptism by John, and his first miracle at Cana.   God often uses such moments of illumination to bring people to the knowledge of himself.   This illumination, or epiphany, is one of the central aspects of Christianity, for without God’s intervention, none of us would see the truth.   We do not find God because of our upbringing, our opportunities, or our intelligence or education.  We find him because he chooses to enlighten us, to reveal himself to us, to give us an epiphany, and to open the eyes of our hearts. 


Theme in Our Life

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There are several lessons that come from the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord that we can apply in our lives today.  As we hear in the Gospel, The Magi or wise men were in search of something.  The first thing we can learn from the wise men is the importance of seeking God.   They also show us that the life of faith is a pilgrimage.   They travel together on this pilgrimage and we are reminded to walk our journey with others.   The Magi show us that we need to be guided on the path of faith and they teach us all about true adoration.   The greatest gift they gave the Lord Jesus was not gold, frankincense or myrrh, but themselves.   St. Matthew tells us that they prostrated themselves and did him homage.    The Magi show us how the encounter with Christ is meant to change us. Similarly, every time we come to journey to mass, every time we come together with others on pilgrimage to bring him our gifts and sacrifices, we are supposed to leave changed.   Changed by the word we heard, changed by our prayers we offered and changed by the gifts we have to offer up to the Lord. 


Preparing for Sunday

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Consider the following questions:

  1. Who and what on your journey has helped you know and understand Jesus and his message better? 

  2. How do we reconcile the material gits we have in our lives with the simple life-style of Jesus?

  3. What are different ways we as a community can be like the star and help other people come and worship Jesus? 

  4. What gifts do I have to offer to God in response to his love? 


Let us pray:  

O God, who on this day revealed your only begotten Son to the nations by the guidance of a star.  Grant in your mercy that we, who know you already by faith, may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. 

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