Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Feast of the Epiphany

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany celebrating the Magi's following of the star which brought them to Jesus. This is one of my favorite Sundays of the year. There is so much symbolism and beauty in the readings and in the actual event of the Adoration of the Magi.

The Gospel reading is taken from Matthew:
Mt 2:1-12

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”
When King Herod heard this,
he was greatly troubled,
and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people,
He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea,
for thus it has been written through the prophet:
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod called the magi secretly
and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said,
“Go and search diligently for the child.
When you have found him, bring me word,
that I too may go and do him homage.”
After their audience with the king they set out.
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
Then they opened their treasures
and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country by another way.

Like the three wise men, we are also called to adore Christ who is the Word made flesh. We can react to His coming in two ways: like the wise men did-- they consciously looked for Him and set out on the path which led them to Him. Or we can be like King Herod and seek to oppose Him, by seeking our own will instead.

The Magi came from afar, traveling in a caravan over days and weeks. It must have been a hardship from the kind of life they were used to leading as kings and rulers. They saw and followed the signs which brought them an epiphany, which means "manifestation". Usually an epiphany comes about when we least expect it. The Jewish people had been waiting for this Messiah for a long time, and yet-- when He does come, He is not recognized by His people because He didn't fit their expectations.

Today in our homily, our priest pointed out that many times our lives are like that. How often do we pray for something and feel like the prayer wasn't answered? Sometimes the answer is No and we just don't want to hear it. Our expectations are very short term, and not always focused on what is best for us Eternally.

The gifts the Magi brought were gold, frankincense and myrrh, which have symbolic meaning.

That they are all ordinary gifts for a king — myrrh being commonly used as an anointing oil, frankincense as a perfume, and gold as a valuable.
That they are prophetic — gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense (an incense) as a symbol of priestship, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of death. Sometimes this is described more generally as gold symbolizing virtue, frankincense symbolizing prayer, and myrrh symbolizing suffering.

To commemorate this day, you could bake star shaped cupcakes, and decorate foam crowns with the kids (that's what we did!)

Another tradition on this day is to mark over the doors of the home with the sign


The letters have two meanings. They are the initials of the traditional names of the Three Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. They also abbreviate the Latin words “Christus mansionem benedicat.” “May Christ bless the house.” The letters recall the day on which the inscription is made, as well as the purpose of blessing.

The crosses represent the protection of the Precious Blood of Christ, whom we invoke, and the holiness of the Three Magi sanctified by their adoration of the Infant Christ. The inscription is made above the front door, so that all who enter and depart this year may enjoy God’s blessing.

To bless your home this Epiphany, read the Prologue of Saint John’s Gospel, followed by the Our Father, and the Collect of the Epiphany; then write the inscription for this year above your front door with blessed chalk. (thanks to Fr. Mark's blog for that information!)

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