The Feast of Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of Jesus as Savior for all peoples. The gifts brought by Magi from different countries have very special significance. The gold reminds us that Jesus is of royal descent since He was of King David's line. The Frankincense indicates the adoration that is owed to Jesus who is also divine. The myrrh, which was used to anoint the body before burial, calls forth gratitude for Jesus' giving his life to redeem us.
Through the study of Creation, our ancestors could recognize the power and intelligence of God. However, God, our Father, with the gift of Jesus as a human being, helps us to understand other qualities of God, most especially those of love and mercy.
When we observe the life of Jesus in the New Testament (Christian Scriptures) we develop a deeper understanding of our loving and merciful God. Jesus taught us both by word and example. His parables (stories to teach a lesson) e.g. The story of the Prodigal Son who squandered his inheritance and was welcomed back by his merciful father illustrates this. Jesus' own example of forgiveness of the repentant woman also provides a deeper sense of the merciful kindness of our God. Jesus asks us to show mercy to one another also when he teaches his disciples to pray: "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."
In addition, Jesus instructs us to treat one another as brothers and sisters with a common Heavenly Father. The Jews considered the Samaritans to be inferior because some of them intermarried with Assyrians. In response to a question: "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus offers the parable: "The Good Samaritan." While others pass by a man who had been injured by robbers, the Samaritan stops and goes out of his way to help him.
In Jesus' lifetime, women and children were considered to be possessions of men. Jesus treats women with respect and even converses with a Samaritan woman and asks her for a drink of water. He could have faced heavy criticism for that. When the disciples try to send children away because they know Jesus is tired, Jesus stops them and tells them to let the children come to him. He also informs the disciples that unless they become like children, they will not enter the Kingdom of God.
The story of the Magi's travels from distant lands to find their God and King is like the journey of each one of us. The light of the Star is the unique guidance we receive along the way. Sometimes it is a personal inspiration or something we read or comment on or an example of another person.
Pope John Paul II described the Christian life as a " pilgrimage to the House of God, our Father."
A Christmas Story The Other (Fourth) Wise Man
by Henry Van Dike
A wise man, possibly an astronomer, named Artaban from Persia saw signs in the sky proclaiming that a King had been born among the Jews. He sets out to see the newborn ruler, bringing with him a sapphire, a ruby, and a "pearl of great price." On his way to meet the other three wise men, he stops to help a dying man and is too late to join the caravan. He cannot cross the desert with only a horse, so he has to sell one of his treasures to buy some camels and supplies.
Artaban continues his journey and arrives at Bethlehem too late to see the child because his parents have fled with him to Egypt. They went to Egypt to avoid the threats of King Herod who does not want any competition for power from a new King. While there, Artaban saves the life of a child by giving away another treasure intended for his King.
Not to be discouraged from finding his King, Artaban travels through a number of countries, doing many kind deeds along the way. He arrives in Jerusalem as Jesus is being crucified. There, he is struck in the head by a falling roof tile. As he lays dying, he hears a voice saying: "Verily I say unto thee, inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me." (Matthew 25:40) Artaban dies in peace and joy, realizing that his treasures of kindness had been accepted lovingly by his King.
Jesus - Emmanuel - God with us
One of my favorite names for Jesus heard often during the Christmas Season, is our Emmanuel (Immanuel). It means "God, with us." We never really are alone. We find God in creation, in the Blessed Sacrament (Holy Communion), in Sacred Scripture, and in one another.
God is present to us through one another. Although this true at all times, it is most evident when disasters happen, e.g. hurricanes, forest fires, and today during our pandemic. We see our healthcare personnel working long hours providing care and comfort to the sick and dying. We see essential workers providing food and other needed items and services. Police and firefighters risk their lives to help those in need. Caring people check on their elderly relatives, friends, and neighbors to provide meals and help when needed. Volunteers work many hours staffing food banks, etc. Yes, God is ever-present with us in many ways. Let us express our gratitude daily for these wonderful blessings!
A Happy and Healthy New Year to You and Yours!
Stephanie Morris, Ph.D., ASBS, Historian, Certified archivist emerita
The Blessed Mother went on a pilgrimage to be with her relative Elizabeth who was with child. Can you imagine being a teenager and being told that you are to be the Mother of God? Mary must have had many thoughts and questions about this Motherhood. Who could she talk with who would understand her excitement? Elizabeth, now miraculously with child herself, may have shared some of this same excitement. Elizabeth understood the situation as she greeted Mary: "And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Luke 1:39-45). Clearly, something beyond the ordinary was happening to these two women. As we know, our Lord is always with us, offering love, support, and guidance. God provided Mary with love, support, and possibly some guidance, in the person of Elizabeth. As St. Katharine Drexel urged the Sisters in 1902, "Yes, arise from the Christmas thanksgiving to find your Jesus always with you." Even in these difficult days, Jesus is always with us in many forms, e.g., the person delivering food or the person who made you smile or laugh the other day. We can be that person for others as well. May you always sense the presence of God with you on your own pilgrimage.
Pat Chiaffa, ASBS
I promised myself that I would leisurely savor the morning of the day after Christmas. I curled up on the sofa with my mug of steaming coffee and my Scripture readings for the day. I opened to the first reading, Acts of the Apostles 6:8-10, and read of the hatred toward, and the stoning of Stephen. It struck a note of disturbance as I was anticipating a continuation of the celebration of the birth of the Baby Jesus. That passage felt so cold after the nighttime Christmas Mass focus on the peace, joy, light, and grace of the Savior’s birth. Was there a “no loitering” sign outside of the stable? I wanted to settle into the warmth and hominess of the Nativity scene. When I thought about it, I was reminded of when I was a young mother and never wanted the tender infant-stage to end. I resisted moving forward even as my baby went on to crawl, teeter, and walk on his own.
Author Michelle Francl-Donnay poses the questions, “What has changed as a result of this birth of God into time?... What must change in me as a result of this coming of the Lord?”
Our focus must change from merely gazing on the “frozen” statuettes in the manger “toward the living Christ.” Francl-Donnay writes, “This is the scandal of the Nativity, this is the stumbling block I face, that God demands of me not merely adoration, but witness. Not merely awareness, but action…We are called to walk from the crib into the world, carrying with us the Light.”
With the feast of Epiphany, the Wise Men seek the Light of Christ, offer their unique gifts and, as a result of worshiping the Christ child, the courses of their lives were changed. Returning home after encountering the holy... How will we incarnate the Holy One in our lives? Will we be changed? Transformed? Epiphany challenges us to move forward with spiritual vision. Do we have the spiritual vision to recognize Christ in the faces of those we encounter in our daily lives and offer to them our unique gifts?
These are the questions I need to ponder as I seek to encounter the Christ Presence in everyone I meet. I know not what unique gifts I have to offer but I trust that they will manifest when I am open to respond to the epiphanies that Christ places on my path. I share these questions with your readers who may, like myself, recognize that we are called to respond to the invitation that Epiphany offers and are open to being led by The Light.