For the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
Next Sunday is the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
That is officially the last day of the Church’s Christmas season.
Today through next Sunday are the days of “Epiphany Week”— or “Epiphany Octave”— within the season of Christmas.
The word “Epiphany” means literally “great revelation” or “great showing.”
All of “Epiphany Week” is a GREAT SHOWING of the nature and identity of the Child born in Bethlehem.
It is a GREAT SHOWING of his work, his mission— his purpose in the world.
Today we see astrologers arrive in Bethlehem from some far country east of Israel.
These “wise men” throw themselves on the ground to worship the Child.
They offer him gifts that suggest what future has now been born in a stable.
They give him the bitter and intoxicating myrrh-spice of prophetic ecstasy.
They present him the sweet frankincense of priestly sacrifice.
They offer him the gleaming gold of kingly wealth and glory.
With these three gifts, the Magi are paying homage to Him who is a prophet, a priest and a king.
The daily Mass on the other days of “Epiphany Week” also give us other GREAT SHOWINGS of the power, mystery and glory of this Child born of Mary.
Two of the Epiphany Week Gospels show him curing those suffering disease and pain, the possessed, the lunatics, the paralyzed.
He heals them all.
In another Epiphany Week Gospel he turns five loaves of bread and two fish into enough to feed more than five thousand persons.
Yet another Epiphany Week Gospel shows him to us in the darkest hours before dawn, as he walks upon the waters of a storm-tossed lake, steps into the boat of his terrified disciples, and causes the storm to die away.
The forces of nature fall down in obedience to the Man-child born of Mary.
Another Epiphany Week Gospel shows him in his home town daring to claim the fulfillment of the messianic prophecy that begins with the words, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore he has anointed me.”
Later in Epiphany Week, John the Baptist comes forward in the Gospel to testify that the GREAT SHOWING, the EPIPHANY, is complete.
That is the last time we ever hear John the Baptist in the Gospel, speaking as his last words: “That is my joy, and it is complete.”
Epiphany Week and the Lord’s Baptism are a GREAT SHOWING of the Good News that the Christ Child has divine power and divine glory.
A Messiah of power, glory and divinity naturally draws us to bow down and worship him with the Magi.
However, another kind of “epiphany” awaits us— the epiphany of Holy Week: an epiphany, a SHOWING not of divine power and glory, but of human weakness, suffering, humiliation and death.
We know that beyond his cross there is a further epiphany of our Lord in his Resurrection, and that the Epiphany of the Resurrection is again one of divine power, glory and life.
Nonetheless, most of his own contemporaries saw his tortured agony and death as an epiphany that finally proved Jesus was not the Messiah.
The paradox of a divine Messiah who is shown not only in power and glory, but also in humiliation and death is also the paradox of Christmas: the Child born of Mary is BOTH GOD AND MAN.
Next Sunday’s feast of the Lord’s Baptism— the last day of the Christmas season— continues the paradox.
The Sinless Christ submits himself to the baptism of repentance preached by John.
In the context of that submission, another epiphany, another GREAT SHOWING takes place.
The Divine Spirit is shown in the descent of a dove above the head of the Anointed One.
Finally, a voice from heaven confirms everything that we celebrate in Christmas and Epiphany: this is God’s beloved Son in whom he is well pleased.
We are witnesses of that— witnesses commissioned by God in the sacraments of our faith in Christ.
We are witnesses of all that the Gospel shows us.
So we now flock to Christ, here at his altar.
We are members of the Church, a collective bride coming to meet Christ the groom.
We are here to offer him, not only gold, incense and myrrh, but to offer him ourselves.
We are here to be completed by him, but also to offer our own sufferings together with his.
We are here to offer him our humanity, but also to receive a share in his divinity.
Here, in the sacrament of his Flesh and Blood, he takes the guilt of our sins upon himself.
In return he gives us his own innocence to drink and eat.
Here, also, following the example of John the Baptist, we come to decrease so that the Epiphany, the GREAT SHOWING of Christ, might increase in us and throughout the world.