Sunday, January 8, 2017

Epiphany: The Lord Made Manifest

Happy Epiphany . . . and a Merry Christmas!

   Yes, it is still the Christmas Season: the season officially ends tomorrow with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord.  Today we celebrate the Great Feast of Epiphany (although many of you no doubt observed the traditional date of January 6th, which was this past Thursday). In the Western Church today Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Magi, to whom we often refer as “the Three Kings”, Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar.  Scripture, however, neither crowns, nor numbers, nor names them, but simply describes them as “wise men from the East”.  The word Epiphany means “a manifestation” or “a revealing”.  In this context the name of the Feast refers to the fact that the gifts and adoration of the Magi make manifest that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God.  This ancient feast (which Christians were celebrating even before there was a formal observance of Christmas) has at times also been connected  to the Nativity, the Baptism of Jesus and other manifestations of his Divinity.

It is interesting how many epiphanies of “God With Us” can be found in Scripture, how many different ways he reveals himself: the examples above barely scratch the surface. And yet it’s still so hard for us to accept (a theme of my post for the 10th day as well). Mary and Joseph themselves, after visits from Angels and after what they knew full well was a Virgin Birth, “marveled at what was said about him (Luke 2:33)”  when they hear the old man Simeon prophesy over Jesus as he is presented in the Temple. A full dozen years later, they still seem to have a hard time taking it all in:

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously." And he said to them, "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them.  (Luke 2:46-50)

   It is so difficult for us to grasp the reality of the Incarnation. Even the human parents of The Lord seem to struggle with it – and who could hope to have faith equal to theirs?  
    But even here, as always, the Blessed Mother is the model disciple: “his mother”, the Evangelist tells us, “kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51).  She doesn’t let her initial human reactions have the last word, but patiently waits for the meaning of all these events to become manifest.  One might even say that she demonstrates the classic definition of theology: faith seeking understanding.