In the Eastern Church today’s solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord has 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 inconceivable humility and wondrous goodness whereby His only-begotten Son puts on human flesh, becoming Himself fully and truly human in His divine Sonship, in order to involve Himself with us totally – sin alone excepted -- for a right understanding and resolving of the mess into which we had got ourselves and our world by deliberate and wilful sinning against God and against our own humanity. And that Christmas awareness of such amazing humility and goodness on God’s part batters at the foundations of modern pride by inviting and provoking us to humble gratitude and childlike trust. On Christmas Day we recalled the words of Elizabeth to Mary our Mother (Luke 1:45);
Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled
and we too, as her true children, likewise renewed at Christmas the sincerity of our belief in Jesus the Lord and our Redeemer, and the simplicity of our trust in all God’s promises for our salvation.
At the Epiphany, however, we rejoice in the divine glory manifested in the earthly life and being of Him Who, though coming as Saviour, deigns to be like us:
As an Infant, Who, like some uniquely wondrous lodestone, draws the heavens (planetary movements of those times being apparently confirmed by modern computer simulation) and the Magi (men guided by their learning in science and philosophy and deeply motivated by their sincere religious commitment) from lands afar, to His crib in Bethlehem;
At His baptism, when 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 own beloved Son;
At the wedding in Cana, where as a passing guest He changed, at His mother’s instigation (!), water into rich and copious new wine; His power there being manifested and matched by His divine awareness, human generosity, and filial compliance.
All these resplendent signs of His human majesty, glory, power, and compassion, give us unshakeable confidence that what He has promised, He can and will fulfil in and for His Church throughout the succeeding ages of her public proclamation and witness, and for all His true disciples as they try to live their personal lives according to His teaching and for the praise and glory of His most holy Name.
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. As you all are well aware, though human joy appears most desirable, experience does -- at times -- show it to be equally unreliable; again, worldly joy can change some people into louts and hooligans even more easily than it makes others into happy and generous companions; and when circumstances change, such joy can quickly disappear, leaving behind it corrosive complaint rather than grateful and calm peace.
Jesus the Lord triumphed for us by destroying sin and death in our flesh, and His renewed coming this Christmas season is a confirmation of His promise that He will share His triumph with all who put their faith, and find their joy, in Him, becoming one with Him through baptism and the Eucharist. His victories are eternally valid; for, in His Resurrection human flesh has once again been restored to heaven and is now, indeed, at the right hand of the Father in glory; and He, the Risen Son of Man, is both willing and able to triumph over the darkness of sin and ignorance, not only 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, the glory of the LORD has dawned upon you. Though darkness covers the earth and thick clouds the peoples, upon you the LORD will dawn and over you His glory will be seen;
but also in our own very intimate, complicated, and shadowy, minds and hearts.
Just as at Christmas we rejoiced and renewed our humble and grateful trust in the promises made to us in Christ, in accordance with the teaching of St. Paul who most emphatically teaches us (2 Corinthians 1:20) that:
However many are the promises of God, their "Yes" (is) in Him; therefore the Amen from us also goes to God for glory;
even so now, on this feast of the Epiphany – a word which means the shining-forth, manifestation, of the glory of Christ – we should exultantly rejoice and stir up anew the confidence which heaven alone gives, as the prophet Isaiah proclaimed:
Then you shall see and be radiant, your heart shall throb and overflow. For the riches of the sea shall be poured out before you, the wealth of nations shall come to you.
Grateful trust and sure confidence, humility and power, patience and vigour, joy and peace, each is so necessary for, and all are so beautifully complementary in, the fulfilment of our Christian vocation and personal calling, just as Christmas and Epiphany are equally essential for the fullness of our liturgical celebration and appreciation of Jesus, perfect God and perfect Man, coming to serve us as our total and unique Saviour.
And so, though the deep darkness of human sin is so evident in the world around, and even though our own souls may know something of its oppressive shadow 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 discover deeper peace by confirming your trust in Jesus’ promises, and to renew your confidence by stirring up your joy, as you celebrate His glory and power; for such are the signs given and the blessings offered us in this sublime culmination of the Christmas season which is today’s Epiphany. The multitude of angels sang:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests!
And the shepherds, having told their good tidings to all gathered around the Infant Christ, returned to their sheep in the fields:
Glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.
Let all of us, too, dear People of God, sincerely pray that our celebration of the Epiphany today may give glory to God and further the exaltation of Holy Mother Church, through the comforting and strengthening of all those who are her true children. Amen.