The Epiphany of the Lord

Lectionary: 20

It was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.




This day, January 6, was the original day to celebrate the Lord's birth among Christians. It was accepted throughout the Roman Empire until the Roman diocese decided to repurpose the December feast of Saturn. Eastern Catholicism maintains the more ancient custom; and we do well to join them two weeks after our Christmas, recalling not only the visit of the magi but the whole mystery and majesty of God's birth of a Virgin.

Today's gospel directs our attention toward the magi and their worship. Saint Luke's shepherds saw the infant and his mother lying in a manger; "they made known the message that had been told them about this child." and were amazed; but Matthew's magi "prostrated themselves and did him homage."

We still use that gesture in our Catholic tradition, but sparingly. Candidates for Orders of deacon, priest or bishop lie prostrate on the floor as the congregation prays the Litany of the Saints over them. Some religious monks and nuns prostrate as they prepare to make their vows. Presiders may prostrate themselves on Good Friday during the afternoon service, providing they’re able to get up again.
In the ancient world it indicated complete submission to a king or emperor. The vanquished were sometimes forced to lie in the street while the conquerors walked over them. 

Religiously, prostration expresses awe and helpless amazement. Emotionally, it may express the grief of Good Friday or the joy of obedience to God's invitation. 
When the magi prostrated themselves their gesture indicated their joy. “They were overjoyed at seeing the star" upon leaving Jerusalem, and their happiness was all the greater upon seeing "the child with Mary his mother." Their prostration must refresh our sense of the mystery we have been celebrating since late November. The long-awaited Messiah has appeared at last.
But Saint Matthew, more than Saint Luke, adds reminders of fear and sadness. Myrrh was used to anoint the deceased before burial. Their prostration foretells the Church's helpless sorrow on Good Friday, when we witness our Savior's death. 
As Christians we must return time and time again to this signal moment in history. Rightly we rejoice in the Birth of Jesus but its meaning is far deeper than our joy or sadness. It calls for silence, awe, wonder and holy fear. “What child is this?” we ask even as we bow our heads, genuflect and prostrate.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.