By Fr. Joseph Briody, Professor of Sacred Scripture
Epiphany is not just the fading out of Christmas. It is a great feast of Christmas. Epiphany shows Christ to the world as “God from God” and “Light from Light.” Today, in the Magi from afar, Jesus is revealed as the Light of Salvation and the Lord of all nations. Where Christ is, there is the kingdom of God. Today, “three members of an obscure Persian sect walked haphazard by starlight, straight into the kingdom of heaven” (U.A. Fanthorpe, BC - AD). The Epiphany Liturgy suggests some important guides for us to the kingdom of heaven: the Virgin Mary, Sacred Scripture, and the Magi themselves.
Christ is found, today’s gospel states, “with Mary his Mother.” Our Lady continues to be the star that guides us to Christ the Light. She is the “Star of the Sea” (Stella Maris) who guides us unfailingly in darkness, in turbulent times, and stormy seas.
The star guiding the Magi wasn’t always visible to them, leaving some darkness and confusion. At such a time, they consulted Sacred Scripture, albeit through Herod’s advisors. The Word of God shone light on God’s purposes. The star reappeared, leading them to Bethlehem and to Christ. Sacred Scripture guides us too. Through it, God speaks and leads, consoles and guides. Scripture-based prayer re-orients our lives. Through such prayer, God leads us where he would have us go. Try to read the Word of God daily, even for a few minutes. A new-year resolution, perhaps, that will change your life!
The Magi, themselves, are important guides. Through the guidance of Scripture and the light of the star, the Magi are led to a transformative encounter with the Christ Child. Meeting Christ means that we can never be the same again. Their going back “by a different way” doesn’t just mean a different route on the GPS. It means they themselves were changed. They were renewed in Christ as every person is invited to be renewed in Christ. Their interior renewal finds expression in their kneeling before Christ, adoring him, and giving him their best—precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In doing so, they submit to him as King of Kings—as Lord. We should pray to them for guidance and direction.
The kingdom of heaven is for those reborn in Christ, those who “become like little children.” The Magi show us what this is like. To find the True God, they left behind, for a time, cultures and kingdoms, careers and positions, comforts and securities. They showed humility, openness, trust, and perseverance. All this finds expression in their falling-down before Christ—as they walk right into his kingdom. This was indeed the moment when, as Fanthorpe’s poem put it, “a few farm workers and three members of an obscure Persian sect, walked haphazard by starlight, straight into the kingdom of heaven.”
Like the Magi, we fall on our knees before Christ—especially before his Eucharistic Presence, where heaven and earth meet. Then we too walk—even haphazardly—into the kingdom of heaven.