The Epiphany of the Lord
Reading I Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 1-13
Reading II Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6
Gospel Matthew 2:1-12
This morning we celebrate the great Feast of the Epiphany. The Feast of the Epiphany goes back a long way to the early church along with Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. In some cultures the Epiphany is celebrated in a greater way than Christmas and in some countries they would be exchanging gifts and having their parties today as opposed to Christmas. So what is Epiphany all about? An “epiphany” is an awareness of something. It is a manifestation of something we don’t know. When we hear the story in Matthew today of the three kings and — what is the epiphany they made known? Well, the greatest epiphany that is made known is that Jesus came for everyone. When Christ was born, and even afterwards, the Jewish people believed that the Messiah was still to come. But the Messiah was going to come to the Jewish people and no one else.
So here we look at Jesus being born and who’s there? The angels, shepherds, and three Gentile kings. So the manifestation or epiphany is that this baby Jesus, this God, man, came for everyone. He came for the Taliban as well as the Christians — he has come for all of us.
The gifts they bring are very much an epiphany as well. They bring the gifts of gold because Jesus is a king. They bring the gift of frankincense, which is like incense, and it means he is divine and it also means he shares the priesthood, and then myrrh to show that he is human and he will die. So the gifts they bring and the fact that they bring them tells us who this Jesus is.
In the early 1900s, there was an author who went by the name of O. Henry. He wrote a short story called “The Gift of the Magi.” This story is about Jim and Della Young. They are a young couple in their early twenties, they don’t have much money, and they live on the third floor in a very small apartment. It’s Christmas Eve and they love each other a lot.
Della has this very long hair that goes all the way to the bottom of her long dress, and he has this gold watch that was given to him by his father, and his father was given the watch by his father. These are the two most precious physical possessions they own.
It was Christmas Eve. His salary had increased from $20 a week to $30. They had nothing. And Della thought, “I have to give my husband something, he is such a good guy. I need to give him something. But all I have is $1.87. Buying groceries every month takes $1 of what I have, and the eighty-seven cents is in pennies. You can’t buy much of a gift with eighty-seven cents.” She was sad. What was she going to do?
Della looked out a window that happened to be a mirror of sorts, she looked at her long hair and said, “I could sell my hair and then buy him a very nice gift.” So she put on her coat and hat and that morning went to the woman and asked, “How much will you give me for my hair?” The woman said, “Well, take it down.” And she did. The woman said, “You have beautiful hair, and I’ll give you $20.” Twenty dollars was a lot of money. Della said, “Good. Do it before I change my mind.” So the woman cut her hair and gave her $20.
Now she had $21.87 and she spent the afternoon going from jewelry store to jewelry store because she knew what she wanted to give him. She wanted to give him a watch chain to go with his beautiful watch so that every time he took the watch out of his pocket to look at the time, four or five times a day, he would see the chain and know of her love. So that’s what she did. She bought it, wrapped it, and brought it home. On her way home she began to worry and thought, “I wonder what my husband is going to say about my hair?” So she put a few curls in the hair that she did have, and eagerly awaited for him to come home.
The husband comes home, looks at her, and says nothing. All of a sudden his eyes begin to tear up, but she doesn’t know why. She says, “My hair grows fast and I’ll have long hair again.” Then she quickly gives him her gift, which is beautifully wrapped, and he opens it up and here is this beautiful watch chain.
Wonderful. He then gives her his gift. She opens it up and here are three beautiful combs — combs she had looked at in the window-front for months and months and months knowing that she would never have them because she could never afford them. She now knows that her husband sold his watch to buy those combs for her.
Some people didn’t like O. Henry’s story because they thought it didn’t have a very good ending and was sad. Others thought it was a very good story because it shows the love they had for each other and the willingness to sacrifice for one another — no matter what.
That’s what we celebrate today. We celebrate the birth of Jesus and his recognition to the world of who he is, that he is the Son of God, and that God so loved us that he sent his son to suffer and die for us so that we can live forever and ever.
The wise men saw that star not knowing exactly what they were going to find other than what they thought they were going to find, which they did, the King of the Jews. When they went to the stable we really don’t know what happened other than they gave the gifts. We do know that when they left they went home by a different way. Were they transformed? Were they changed because of seeing Jesus? Absolutely. But how they actually lived the rest of their lives, we really don’t know.
The bottom-line question for us is: What are the gifts that we bring to God? The song says, “Wise men follow Christ.” How many of us are wise? We are all wise because we are here. We follow that star, we follow that Jesus every Sunday to church to praise him and to thank him for everything that he has given us.
When that bread and wine is brought to this altar for Father Mike to offer up in sacrifice — those are our gifts we are presenting. It is not just the bread and wine, it is everything that we bring to this mass — our brokenness, our joys, everything that we are we lay at that altar and raise up to God and give gratitude for what he has given us, and thank him for always being with us in our journey. What are those gifts that we bring? They are the gifts of time, talent and treasure that we continue to use throughout our lives — these are the gifts that we bring.
I want to end with a poem this morning. It is kind of a practical message of what the Epiphany is all about. It is by an unknown author and goes:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with the flocks,
The work of Christmas begins.
We are to find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoners,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers and sisters,
To continue to follow the star, which is Jesus,
To make His love known to all, and,
To make music in the hearts of all.”
We are to be wise people and to continue to follow that star whom we know is Jesus Christ.
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Terry Ellerman is a retired educator and serves as a deacon at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Quincy, Illinois.
(TASCAM DR 40 file 0027)