Epiphany is coming up on January 6th! In my short life, I’ve not seen the holiday given much thought, let alone laud, among secular society. Outside of its Christian context, the word epiphany connotes some striking and significant revelation, especially one born of ordinary circumstances. It’s a lightning strike of insight into a situation – the classic AHA moment that comes out of the blue. Though often unexpected, an epiphany usually calls for a deeper understanding of an idea in order for the light to suddenly turn on. For any person or situation, the common epiphany is a life-changing event, compelling one to live or approach obstacles in a totally different way.
It’s fascinating how the secular understanding of epiphany makes sense only in light of its biblical origin: the Wise Men anticipated the birth of the King of the Jews and had studied prophecies indicating the rise of a star corresponding with “a scepter [rising] out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17). Their prior knowledge provided the perfect mindset for receiving news of Jesus’s birth. So immersed were they in the predictions that when the fateful star finally appeared, they left without hesitation to find the Christ Child, undaunted by the long trip and upheld by their determination. Upon finding him, the Wise Men presented Christ with the finest gifts they could offer and humbly worshiped him. Though King Herod would have used the Wise Men to find and kill the infant Jesus to rid his reign of threat, the Magi departed for home by a route that circumvented seeing Herod again, ultimately protecting Christ’s life. This original Epiphany cultivated the highest meaning of approaching life in a different way.
The more I think about The Visit of the Wise Men from the Gospel of Matthew, the more clearly I see that the account provides insight into what should occur in our own souls. Christ can be seen in every moment of our lives; most commonly in our vocations, but also our children, work places, and strangers; in moments of quiet and chaos, in company or solitude. The way we should react should mimic the behavior of the Wise Men. How well do we study him so that when we do encounter him, we are ready to respond immediately and humbly? Do we, like the Magi, give Christ the finest we can offer of ourselves – our time and devotion, our gratitude and especially the sacrifice of our sinfulness? When obstacles come in the way of maintaining our relationship with Christ, do we avoid them as the Wise Men did King Herod on their return home?
The whole story is ideal for Christians to hold themselves accountable, but most especially it should compel Catholics to receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist. Uprooting sins, avoiding occasions of sin, and amending our ways will protect the life of Christ within us. More importantly, we encounter Jesus in the Mass and Eucharist, which is the physical reception of Christ into our being. After beholding the Lamb of God, worshiping him, and receiving him, shouldn’t our souls imitate the Wise Men, by departing another way?