(Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12)
In the Eastern Church today’s solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord is given precedence over Christmas, whereas for us in the West, Christmas Day is the greater celebration; and the reason for this diversity is that these two solemn celebrations are complementary.
At Christmas we celebrate God’s gracious humility and merciful goodness whereby His only-begotten Son takes to Himself human nature, puts on human flesh, and involves Himself totally – sin alone excepted because of His unassailable holiness -- in the mess into which we have got ourselves, the mess publicised daily in the media. And that Christmas awareness of such amazing humility and goodness on God’s part batters at the foundations of our pride and fills us with humble gratitude and childlike trust.
On Christmas Day we recalled the words of Elizabeth to Mary our Mother:
Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfilment of those things which were told her from the Lord (Lk. 1:45);
and we too, as her true children, likewise renewed at Christmas our belief and trust in all God’s promises for our salvation.
At the Epiphany, on the other hand, we rejoice in the divine glory manifested in the life and being of One like us, Jesus of Nazareth, Our Saviour: as a Infant, like a wondrous loadstone, He draws the heavens (planetary movements quite recently apparently confirmed by computer simulation) and the Magi to His crib; at His baptism, His humility before John opened the very heavens, calling forth a divine witness as the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove, and the Father proclaimed Him to be His beloved Son; at the wedding in Cana, where He changed water into rich and copious new wine, His power was matched and manifested by His supreme generosity and human awareness. And these signs of His majesty, glory, and power and compassion, give us unshakeable confidence that what He has promised, He can and will fulfil in and for His Church throughout the enduring ages of her public ministry, and in and for all His true disciples, as they try to live their personal lives for the praise and glory of His name.
As you all are well aware human joy appears most desirable, but experience can show it to be equally unreliable: worldly joy can change some people into louts and hooligans as easily as it makes others into happy and generous companions; moreover, when circumstances change, such joy can quickly disappear, leaving behind it corresponding sadness and gloom.
For us, therefore, who are disciples of Jesus, there should be a more than worldly, human, joy when we celebrate the birth, the majesty and power, of Jesus, because His Kingdom is not of this world, as He Himself said. Jesus the Lord has triumphed for us by destroying sin and death in our flesh, and His promise is that He will share His triumph with all who put their faith in Him and become one with Him through baptism and the Eucharist. His victories are eternally valid for in His Resurrection human flesh is once again restored to heaven and is now, indeed, placed at the right hand of the Father in glory; and He, the Son of Man, is now both willing and able to triumph over the darkness of sin and ignorance, not only in our minds and hearts, but also in the world around us, as was shown by His bringing to naught the schemes of that cunning and murderous tyrant, Herod.
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth and deep darkness the people; but the LORD will arise over you and His glory will be seen upon you.
At Christmas we rejoiced and renewed our humble and grateful trust in the promises made to us in Christ, for St. Paul teaches us that:
All the promises of God have their "Yes" in Him. That is why, when we give glory to God, it is through Christ Jesus that we say "Amen". (2 Cor 1:20)
Now, on this feast of the Epiphany, a word which means the shining-forth, the manifestation, of the glory of Christ, let us stir up anew the confidence which heaven alone gives, as you heard the prophet Isaiah proclaim:
Then you shall see and become radiant, and your heart shall swell with joy; because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you.
Grateful trust and sure confidence, humility and power, patience and vigour, each so necessary to the other for the fulfilment of our personal calling and Christian vocation, just as Christmas and Epiphany are equally essential for our liturgical awareness and appreciation of Jesus, perfect God and perfect Man, our only Saviour.
And so, though the deep darkness of human sin is so evident in the world around, and even though there may be no light in our own soul at times, nevertheless, His glory will appear for those who firmly believe His promises and confidently commit their lives to His most loving, and supremely powerful, Providence.
Therefore, People of God, I urge you in this holy season to experience deeper peace by renewing and deepening your trust in Jesus’ promises, and to renew your confidence and joy as you celebrate His glory and power, for such are the signs given and the blessings offered us in the Christmas season. We are told that the multitude of angels sang:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!
Meanwhile the shepherds who had told their good tidings to all gathered around the Infant Christ:
Returned (to their sheep in the fields), glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
Let all of us, too, sincerely pray that our celebration of the Epiphany today may give glory to God, and -- through the comforting and strengthening of all who are her true children -- further the exaltation of Holy Mother Church. Amen.