The word Epiphany comes from the Greek epiphaneia which means appearance, manifestation. The word evolved to mean an appearance or manifestation of a divine entity. Christ manifests His divine nature as Lord and Savior in His words and miracles, but there are three “ah-ha” moments, that the Church recalls as important moments that highlight the divinity of Christ; His baptism at the Jorden river, the wedding feast at Cana and our Gospel today (Matthew 2:1 – 12) where the Magi or Wise Men come to find the newborn king of the Jews. The Magi were members of an ancient Persian clan who were religious leaders and philosophers. They were actually the first century AD equivalent of modern-day scientists. They tried, by observation, to understand how the world around them worked.
The point St. Matthew wants to make is that the natural world, the stars, showed them that Christ had been born, but they had to go to the people of the covenant, the Jews, to find out where. There is a side note here that human reason can gain great understanding about the world around us. However, our understanding of ourselves and our world is incomplete without the revelation of God. The Magi go to see Herod, the king of the Jews who hold the revelation of God, to find out where the Christ child had been born.
Herod has a nasty reputation in history. The Emperor Augustus remarked, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son.” This was a reference to how Herod, as a Jew, would not kill pigs, but had three of his sons and many others killed. Let’s assume for the moment that Herod is not simply an evil person, but rather a stressed leader trying to make the right decision. That assumption would put him in company with many of us. Herod sees that something amazing has happened. How will he respond, should he take a chance and go with the Epiphany, or do anything necessary to maintain stability and control? We sometimes find ourselves in a similar situation. What made Herod an evil person was not the core of his nature, but his choices. We make choices everyday and those choices determine our moral character.
Keeping in mind that the word Gospel is Greek for “good news,” the good news is that we have God’s help in making decisions and forming our lives. We have an advantage over Herod. Even though killing children to maintain power (then and now) is clearly evil, Christ was only two years old. The full salvation story wasn’t available until Pentecost. We have access to the full story in Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church.
Even better, Christ is here among us in the sacramental life of the Church. We go to Mass because the Mass perpetuates the sacrifice of the Cross, by which we are reconciled to God (CCC 1330, 1365 – 1367). Christ becomes present to us in the Eucharist.
We also need to think about the life God calls us to and acknowledge were we went off course. Was reconciliation with God possible for Herod, for Judas? Of course! The mission of Christ is to reconcile us to God by forgiving our sins (CCC 457). If we have the advantage over Herod by the presence of Christ in the life of the Church, we also have a duty to respond to that gift.
Our response must be to hear what Christ teaches and acknowledge where we went wrong. In the Sacrament of Confession God not only forgives our sins but gives us the strength to get back on track.
God has been manifested to us by Christ (Epiphany) as a person who cares about us and wants a relationship with us. Relationship requires presence and communication. Our communication with God is prayer and our presence before God is the sacramental life of the Church.