What is an ‘epiphany?’ If you look it up in a dictionary, amongst other definitions, you get ‘a moment of revelation or insight.’ In the vernacular, the ‘Oh, I get it!’ moment. A dawning of understanding of something heretofore unknown to the individual. Anyone who has struggled with a certain subject in high school or college and finally, in a flash, ‘gets it’ has essentially had an epiphany.
In our Gospel, we have the classic Epiphany, the one story we usually think of when the word ‘epiphany’ is used. Some pagan scholars who maybe had heard tell of the Hebrew prediction of a messiah decide to ‘follow the star.’ They were curious scholars after all, to see what the great Hebrew predictions of Isaiah might reveal. The star they followed was most probably the so-called ‘Winter Star,’ the juxtaposition of Jupiter and Saturn, forming the brightest thing in the winter sky and seeming to move as it traces it’s way downward toward the horizon. That downward tracing was probably what they meant when they followed the star. Perhaps they thought that if they followed it long enough, they might see it land on earth. We know that’s not possible, but they didn’t. So, off they went, pagans into the unknown to find out what they might find out. As an aside, the Winter Star shows up only every 400 years and it was with us this past December 21st. It won’t show up again until the year 2420. A bright light in the sky if we ever needed one!
Now we don’t know how the events actually unfolded, but we do know that these pagans, which represent the whole of the gentile world, had their famous Epiphany. By God’s grace, these pagan scholars, sometimes referred to as kings, were able to piece the predictions together and came to meet the newborn Christ, whom they recognized as the Messiah that Isaiah had predicted. This was Saint Matthew’s way of announcing to the world that Christ came to save all people, not just the Jews.
So we know about their Epiphany. But what about us? If their Epiphany doesn’t lead to our own epiphany, then all we’ve heard today is a nice, cute story about wise men and a star and the house where Jesus lay that reads like a fairy tale. If the meaning doesn’t flow inward to touch our hearts, if it doesn’t become real for us, then it’s wasted on us.
I think 2020 was if nothing else, the year of the ‘invitation to epiphany.’ 2020 was a year calling us to take stock. We went through 2019 clueless, a normal day-to-day kind of life, get up, go to work, come home, maybe go to a restaurant for dinner, and we never thought another thing about it. A mask? Isn’t that the thing doctors in the operating room or perhaps the Lone Ranger wears? A tanked economy? Really? Unemployment through the roof? Never gonna happen. And worst of all, who have thought that one year later we’re pushing a half-million deaths due to a bug we can’t even see.
My point is that sometimes, as awful as this pandemic is, I don’t know about you, but it has forced me to actively consider my mortality, and my stand before God. While we can never judge ourselves fully, only God can look into the heart, still, can we all honestly say that we’re actively striving to love God above all things? Has the reality of our vulnerability and knowledge of our mortality worked to create an epiphany within us, so as to examine ourselves and to try to do our best to live in God’s graces? Has the meaning of the words of Jesus, ‘repent, for you know not the day nor the hour’ really sunk in, reminding us that it might not be the ‘other guy’ who gets taken tomorrow but we ourselves?
What did the Epiphany of the Magi accomplish for them? Simply put, in coming to know Christ, they came to understand salvation. We need to also want to receive this gift by striving to live a good Christian life. By doing our best to always be found in the state of grace. By being open to a new epiphany of God’s loving presence each day of our lives.
The Magi followed the Winter Star to the place where Jesus lay. We don’t need Jupiter and Saturn in the low western sky any longer to find Christ; his light no longer dwells in the night sky but in our hearts, which, if authentic, always leads to an epiphany of understanding of God’s saving love. May God open all of our hearts to Him; may the Morning Star, which is the Light of Christ, dwell richly in your hearts forever. Amen.