Feast of the Epiphany
January 07 2024 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Isaiah 60:1-5 | Psalm 72:1-2;7-8;10-13
Ephesians 3:2-3A;5-6 | Matthew 2:1-12

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.

What is an epiphany? That word comes from a Greek word, “epiphainein meaning ‘reveal.’”  For theologians, an epiphany is a manifestation, that is, a showing, of a divinity.  The term theologians use is “theophany,” meaning an appearance of God, an intense manifestation of the presence of God that is accompanied by an extraordinary visual display.

Traditionally, at this time of year, before the Vatican two calendar reform, the Church celebrated three epiphanies.  In addition to the visit from the Magi, The Baptism of Jesus, and the appearance of Jesus at the Cana wedding feast were both epiphanies as well. Let’s consider each one of them.

First is the visit of the Magi. The Star that led them to Jesus was certainly an extraordinary visual display. God spoke to the Magi by putting a bright star in the sky.

Tradition holds that the Magi were pagan priests, specializing in astrology and the interpretation of dreams. So, what motivated them to visit Jesus? The Magi likely had direct contact with those Hebrews who remained in the east following the Babylonian captivity, so they would have surely been familiar with their prophecies of a savior king. Although the Magi were not “kings,” the Magi were regarded as men of aristocratic rank even in Jerusalem, which is made apparent by their easy access to King Herod’s court.

The visit from the Magi was the first encounter of Jesus with humanity outside of the Jewish society into which he was born. It was a recognition that Jesus was not the forecasted messiah-king of the Jewish prophets but the savior of the entirety of humanity.

Because the Magi searched with eyes of faith, they were able to recognize the gift of God when they found Jesus, even though he did not have the kingly appearance they may have been expecting. Yet, they experienced a theophany by way of a truly extraordinary visual display, that of a child born in a stable to an unwed Jewish teenager. That scene must have jarred the sensibilities of the Magi as it did not conform to their initial perception of a royal heir. However, with God, we can always expect that when God appears to us, we can always expect the unexpected.

The Magi gazed in deep wonder at what they saw: heaven on earth, earth in heaven, man in God, God in man, one whom the whole universe cannot contain now enclosed in a tiny body. As they look, they believe and do not question, as their symbolic gifts bear witness: incense for God, gold for a king, and myrrh for one who is to die.

Yes, the Magi saw Jesus as a king, but because the Magi are from foreign lands, they identified Jesus as everyone’s king of a realm without boundaries.

In the baptism story, Jesus is also identified, but in this case, his identity is the beloved son of God.  So, in the Church Calendar, the next Epiphany we encounter in the Gospels is the Baptism of Jesus.

Our Eastern Orthodox sisters and brothers commemorate not the visit of the Magi, but the Baptism of Jesus on the Feast of the Epiphany. They reason that at the Baptism of Christ, all three Persons of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—were made manifest in an extraordinary visual display when the Holy Spirit rested on Jesus in the form of a dove as God proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”

Baptism commissions all of us for ministry. That’s right, you heard me say, “ministry.” Ministry is not just limited to ordained persons. The Saint Cecilia Catechism teaches that there are four, not three, orders of ministers.  In addition to bishops, priests, and deacons, all baptized persons are ministers. All of you are ministers, some with specialized tasks. Here, Julie is our Finance Minister, Pedro is our Facilities Minister, Sadrac is our Office, Sacristy, and Altar Minister, Natalya is our Keyboard Minister, our choristers are Song Ministers, and Orencio is our Collection Basket Minister, to name just a few.

But ministry is not limited to what happens in church. Ministry is part of our everyday life as we interact with the world and other people within it. When we live out our Baptism by loving God with all our heart, mind, and soul, and loving our neighbors in the same way we love ourselves, we are doing ministry.

I challenge you to ask yourself, “What have you done with your Baptism?” How well do you keep your baptismal vows? Do you continue to pray and attend Mass? Do you continue to resist evil, and when you sin, change direction and return to God? In the way you live, do you proclaim the Gospel? Do you seek and serve Christ in every person you encounter? Do you work for justice and peace, respecting everyone’s dignity? For many people, including myself, those are hard questions that sometimes lead to embarrassing responses.

The third traditional epiphany involving Jesus is the Cana Wedding Feast which in the contemporary lectionary appears only in Year C. Yet it is an important event in the life of Jesus. Early in John’s Gospel, Jesus attends a wedding at Cana of Galilee. Again, we have an extraordinary visual display. Jesus turns water into wine. The author of John’s Gospel calls it Jesus’s first sign, an epiphany of his glory.

How does it show the glory of the Word? Of what is it a sign? By miraculously changing water into wine, we see at this wedding a manifestation of God’s grace and power through Jesus Himself as His earthly ministry begins. And it is distinct as it embraces more than the Holy Family or Jesus alone. The miracle at Cana is an epiphany of God’s Glory. It reveals, through Jesus Christ, the embrace of humanity into God’s mercy. And it is God’s mercy that makes God glorious! As the prophet Isaiah tells us, “the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise to show mercy to you.”

This miracle in Cana of Galilee reveals the intent and power of God that calls us to be an Epiphany People a people, open to the revelation of God to each one of us. Yes, God is revealed to us in scripture, in the sacraments, and the tradition of the church, but also in the wider world around us. All of us encounter God in people around us who have never seen the inside of a church, people who have never known Jesus, or who do not even know that God exists. Yet, God is revealed in them by the way they live out their relationships with God and the natural world.

God operates in mysterious ways in the manner we least expect it. After all, God is a mystery beyond human understanding. The Magi were surprised by what they saw when they encountered Jesus. The appearance of God at the Baptism of Jesus was unexpected. And the guests at the Cana wedding feast were surprised by the changing of water into wine.

As you leave here today, be open to God surprising you. God’s universe is not structured the way we often think it is, or how we think it should be. No matter the obstacles or how misguided our plans might be when we seek to encounter and serve Jesus, nothing—neither feelings, nor things, nor people nor circumstances—can prevent God from doing God’s business. Always keep this most poignant, everything-changing truth of God’s grace and power in mind.

Stay open to being surprised by God. Do your best to move forward in love, deal with the curve balls life throws at you that change your “plan,” and leave the outcome up to God. AMEN.