Even though the Epiphany of the Lord is one of the most ancient feasts of the Church, it is one of the hardest ones to understand. As soon as we hear the word Epiphany, the picture of the three kings from the East pops up in our mind and we get sidetracked away from the real significance of what we are called to celebrate, and to relive.
To avoid this, I thought of simplifying its significance as much as possible. We all know that “Epiphany” means manifestation. But what is manifested? What is revealed to us? What is its significance for us?
It is all about God’s Family, our Family.
Before tying the knot, a responsible and sensible couple would sit down and decide how large a family they plan on having. The factors determining their decisions are: their love for each other and for kids, their health, their means (financial and otherwise), their age and, maybe, other ones too.
Now, God is love itself; infinite, pure love; hence, he does not have to sit down and assess how big his Family should be. For God it is very simple: from all eternity he has decided that he will have a Family to love and to cherish much bigger than anyone can possibly imagine.
This is exactly what is manifested to us; this is what is made clear to us, today.
In the letter to the Ephesians, this divine decision is called a “mystery,” not in the sense that we cannot understand it, but in the sense that we might have trouble bringing ourselves to accept it. It might be so because, as it happens in many families, we would like preferential treatment from our parents. Originally it was jealousy between the first born (Israel, the Jews) and the younger offspring, the Gentiles.
Now, it might be jealousy or suspicion or uneasiness or prejudice or whatever might stand between our group and other groups within God’s global, universal Family, the Church. It might be still a mystery because, beset by the limits of human nature, we cannot conceive infinitude and, therefore, we attribute some limits to God too. Thus, we might live with the subconscious fear that he might not meet all our needs…
We might harbor this nagging thought: “how can God meet all my needs and still have plenty left to meet the needs of all those belonging to my group, let alone the needs of all those from the rest of the world multiplied by many millennia? This subconscious, ridiculous “shrinking” of our God is not only a big mistake on our part, but also the reason why we could tend to build walls both to limit the expansion of God’s Family but also to keep “the goods, the inheritance” as close to us as possible.
If that is what we are experiencing now, it would be nothing new.
In the early Church, the Gentiles, the pagans were first excluded altogether and then, for a while, accepted with some reservations until, the Church of Jewish extraction realized how she was enriched by the gifts that they were bringing into God’s Family. If we look at the history of the Church in this country we would notice that the first Catholic ethnicities tried to keep other newcomers on the outside of their Family unit.
However, if we stop for a moment and look back in time we see how God’s desire to expand his Family cannot be curtailed by pettiness, fear and prejudices. No other country in the world proves the fulfillment of this prophecy (Isaiah 60:1-6) more eloquently than our country. Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow, For the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you, the wealth of nations shall be brought to you. (Isaiah 60:5)
All races, all creeds, all cultures, all different outlooks and philosophies have contributed to making this country very unique and the most “enriched” in the world.
The same is definitely true of God’s Family. All nationalities are represented in the Catholic Church and they all enrich her far beyond what she would be enriched if she were only welcoming Irish, or Germans or Poles, or Italians or Latinos.
Consequently, in order to allow this solemnity of the Epiphany to make a substantial and lasting change in our mindset and in our life, we might want to delve into our heart and discover which children of God, which brothers and sisters of ours, we would want to keep out in the cold.
Would it be those of a different skin color, ideology, culture, political affiliation, or migrants, beggars, people with mental problems, moochers, whom? Another way of finding those whom we might want to keep at arm’s length is by identifying those whose presence or closeness makes us uneasy or angry, or jealous, or critical and, definitely, judgmental.
The Lord proposes our reading from Isaiah (60:1-6) and the Gospel story (Mt 2:1-12) of the astrologers from the East coming to bring their gifts to the Christ Child in order to allay our suspicions and convince us to open both our minds and our hearts to whomever the Lord has already welcomed into his Family.
We have to convince ourselves that God is limitless in his love, in his power, in his care, in his gifts, in his life-giving action. In his Family, in our Family, we will never be in want of what truly counts. And, I must warn you that our God has a keen sense of humor. If we are reluctant to open up to some people, in his infinite love and wisdom, he will find a way to change our mind.
Mark my words: he will send to shower us with their gifts precisely those whom we might want to keep away from us. Our readings for today provide us with reasons that are designed by God to make us radiant and overjoyed. Thus, it is only a question of being humble and open-minded; and, for sure, we, too, will share in the Father’s radiance and joy.