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제목 The Origin of the Epiphany (2018-01-06)
작성자 관리자 작성일 2018-01-06

The Origin of the Epiphany (2018-01-06)

My dear brethren,

Let us admire these three wise men who have searched for our Lord Jesus Christ for so long and at last today have found Him. Indeed if we pay attention to the words of the holy Gospel, we find that they have searched for him for more than a year! The feasts of Christmas and of the Epiphany were celebrated in the very beginnings of the church: Christmas in Rome and the Epiphany in the East.

It is likely that the date of Christmas became known in Rome when among the secretaries of the Roman Emperor a convert had the holy curiosity to check the archives of the census of Cesar Augustus, which was the occasion of the travel of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. They found the names of Joseph and Jesus in the records from Bethlehem under the date of the “8th of the Calends of January”, which is the 25th December. Bringing their findings to the Pope of the time, the feast of Christmas was thus instituted. St Augustine writing in the west says that already at his time, “we hold from the fathers” that date of Christmas. The foundations of that feast were so solid that when it spread to the East, at the time of St John Chrysostom, such wise patriarch of Constantinople supported it wholeheartedly.

The feast of the Epiphany started in the East in the most antique times, and it is likely that its source was the very wise men themselves: they were the type of person to record the exact dates of important event, and the most important event in their lives was that visit to the Infant Jesus in Bethlehem. Later, the martyrology reports that two of them became bishop when the apostles reached their land, probably in Persia. They then made known their visit to the Child Jesus and the feast of the “Manifestation” of Jesus was instituted. Indeed “Epiphany” is a Greek word meaning manifestation. That feast was particularly dear to the Gentiles who converted in the early Church, and sometimes were treated with disdain by some Jews: the Three Wise Men were the first Gentiles converted to Jesus!

Now St Matthew is very clear that after the visit of the Wise Men, an Angel appeared to Joseph to take the Child into Egypt and stay there until the death of Herod, which happened 3 or 4 years later. Therefore, it is impossible for the Epiphany to happen before the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple, forty days after the birth, as St Luke reports. Given the exactitude of the dates, the only possibility is that the Circumcision was done quietly in Bethlehem on the 8th day after the birth, 1st of January, and the Presentation was done also quietly on the 40th day, 2nd of February: the Pharisees did not notice this poor family, only the devout Simeon and Anna and their circle of devout friends noticed Him. And on the 6th of January of the NEXT year, the wise men arrived in Jerusalem, with their camels, and servants and riches – and then the Pharisees noticed it!

Now the fact that it was one year and 13 days after the birth is also clear from what St Matthew says, that Herod inquired from the Magi very carefully the date of the appearance of the star, and then gave orders to kill all the children under two years of age, “according to the date” that he learnt from the Magi. Now if the Magi had said that the star only appeared 13 days before, it would have been useless to make himself so unpopular by killing children up to 2, because a child of 13 days cannot walk while a child of 2 runs everywhere. But if the Magi had said “1 year and 13 days” then one understands that Herod wanted a safe margin and killed all the children until two years of age. And if the Magi had said “2 years and 13 days” then Herod would certainly have killed all the children until 4!

So, as you can see from the Holy Gospels themselves, the Magi had been studying the miraculous star for a long time, and persevered in their search until they found Him. This is a great lesson for us, lesson of perseverance and of great longings for God, for Christ.

Many of the learned men of the time were very superstitious, and were worshipping the stars – which is very wrong. They believed that man’s life and fate is determined by the stars, which is very wrong. Often learned men would sell to the people omens based on the positions of the stars, and St Augustine says of them: “they want to sell us to the stars”; greed guided them, and they used the credulity of the people and their science of the positions of the stars to deceive them. Now the Church always denounced these false worship, and already in the Old Testament the Prophets denounced the worship of the stars as grave sins.

The book of Wisdom says: “But all men are vain, in whom there is not the knowledge of God: and who by these good things that are seen, could not understand him that is, neither by attending to the works have acknowledged who was the workman: But have imagined either the fire, or the wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the great water, or the sun and moon, to be the gods that rule the world. With whose beauty, if they, being delighted, took them to be gods: let them know how much the Lord of them is more beautiful than they: for the first author of beauty made all those things. Or if they admired their power and their effects, let them understand by them, that he that made them, is mightier than they: For by the greatness of the beauty, and of the creature, the creator of them may be seen, so as to be known thereby” (Wis. 13:1-5).

All things that we see with the eyes of our body are material things, which are much below spiritual things, and infinitely below the Creator of all things, visible and invisible. St Augustine says: “we do not worship the sun, but He who created the sun!” So it is a grave sin to believe in horoscopes and other fortune tellers, who would want us to think that “our stars” are influencing our life, when such material things can have no influence on our spiritual choices.

God in His mercy went to find the lost sheep where he had fallen: so, He put the remedy where the sinner was lying: He sent a star to these pagans. Now the wise men noticed the Christmas star to be very different from the others: other stars – including planets – follow a path that is fixed, and regular, but that Christmas star did not follow the same laws. Indeed, later we see that “the star which they had seen in the east, went before them, until it came and stood over where the child was” (Mt. 2:9). No star can “stand still”: it is always caught in the circular movement of the earth. So that star was very different from the others. It as a miraculous star.

So they researched about it, and found the prophecy of Balaam. Balaam was not a prophet of the holy people; but rather a bad prophet, even a sorcerer, accustomed to cast spells on people. And his spells were quite powerful and quite evil. So he had been hired by Balac, king of the Moabites at the time of the entrance of the holy people into the Holy Land after having left Egypt. Balac heard of the marvels that God had accomplished for Israel, and the victories of the Hebrews, and feared that he would not be able to resist them; so, he hired Balaam in order to curse Irsael, to cast a powerful spell upon Israel. But God intervene, and forced Balaam to predict the glory of Israel, and in particular the coming of the Messiah: “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not near. A STAR SHALL RISE out of Jacob and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel” (Num. 24:17).

The magi prayed about the whole situation, and understood – by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ – that if a star obeys a man, then that man must be God, and therefore must be King of all. So they prepared their journey, which itself took them quite some time, and they arrived in Jerusalem, asking “where is He, who is born King of Israel?” (Mt. 2:2).

Now that must have been quite a trial for these Magi themselves: behold they, gentiles, were coming from so far after such long search, and asking for the new-born King, and the princes of the people were not aware of Him and did not really care! But their faith, based on the testimony of God, which they had seen in the star, was stronger. When they heard the prophecy of Micheas, “AND THOU, BETHLEHEM Ephrata, art a little one among the thousands of Juda: out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be the ruler in Israel: and his going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity” (Mic. 5:2), they believed it and went their way. Then God gave them a great consolation in seeing their friendly star again, guiding them on the way.

“And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and falling down they adored him;” (Mt. 2:11). Notice: they entered “into the house”, they were no longer in the crib of Christmas: St Joseph, seeing that Divine Providence had made the Son of David to be born in the city of David, thought it was his duty to settle in that city of David, and therefore looked for a house, probably renting it. He settled there, with Mary and Jesus. This also explained why after Egypt he hesitated where to go, since he thought he should perhaps go back to Bethlehem, and not to Nazareth."

With the Magi, let us always “seek the Lord, and be strengthened: seek his face evermore” (Ps. 104:4). Let us “seek ye the Lord, while he may be found: call upon him, while he is near” (Isa. 55:6). He made Himself near to us by His Incarnation: man had lost the ability to lift his mind to spiritual things, so He took a human nature, complete, with a visible body, loveable as a little Child to draw us up back to Him. Our Lord Jesus Christ is alone The Way to the Father: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me” (Jn. 14:6). But that Way has now become visible to us, manifest to us: “Epiphany.”

When the Magi, after their long search, had found our Lord Jesus Christ, “falling down they adored him” (Mt. 2:11). This also is very important: the true Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is that He is not only true man, but also true God. They found the Child – true man; they adore Him, because they had the faith in his divinity. This is the Catholic Faith that Jesus Christ is one Person with two natures: the human nature and the divine Nature: He is true God and true man: true God from all eternity, eternal Son of the eternal Father; true man in time, true son of the Virgin Mary.

We too, when we enter the house of God, i.e. the Church, we find “the Child with His Mother”, we find Jesus and Mary in the Church, and entering in, we must adore our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence the tabernacle where Jesus Christ is really present must be in a prominent place and we must genuflect to adore Him. Today, unfortunately, many enter the Church and pay no attention to the Real Presence of the true Son of God in the Tabernacle! Let us always adore our Lord Jesus Christ, especially before Holy Communion.

“And opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Mt. 2:11). What are we going to offer to the Child Jesus? He does not need our money, He wants our heart, but He wants a heart that has these qualities: the gold of charity, the frankincense of prayer and the myrrh of mortification.

“And having received an answer in sleep that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their country” (Mt. 2:12). Note that before seeing the Child Jesus, God instructed the magi by the means of a material thing, a star: He took a means where they had fallen; but after their conversion, He instructed them through an angel, a spiritual being. Also they went back through “another way”; the Fathers of the Church have often commented on this: our ways after conversion cannot be the same as before. We must now live in a manner worthy of our Lord Jesus Christ, Whom we have found. We find our Lord Jesus Christ at every Mass; let us return home after Mass really better than we were before!

May the Blessed Virgin Mary give us Jesus as she gave Him to the Magi. We have the joy to be able to receive Him in our soul and even in our body at holy Communion in a very real manner. May we love Him, serve Him and bring Him in our turn to our neighbour, for their eternal salvation, so that one day we too may be born to eternal life. The Church calls the day of the death of the Saints their “dies natalis – day of birth”, birth to eternal life in Heaven. Amen.

Father François Laisney