Epiphany of the Lord
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Upon seeing the Christ Child, the magi do something remarkable. Matthew tells us that they “. . .prostrate themselves. . .do him homage. . .open their treasures and offer him gifts. . .” This threefold reaction to the Child tells us all that we need to know about who the magi believe the baby Jesus to be. It also tells us how we as followers of Christ best prepare ourselves to be better followers. Our exemplars are astrologers, probably priests from a Persian religion called Zoroastrianism, fire-worshipers. They travel to Bethlehem b/c the stars tell them that a history-changing king has been born. When they find him, they know that the Child before them is both the King of the Jews and the King of the Gentiles. In other words, king of all humanity. So, they prostrate themselves and do him homage, open their treasures, and offer him gifts; thus, placing themselves at his service, making of themselves his servants. They follow a star to the Christ Child. We follow the Christ Crucified. Why would our response to him be any different than theirs? Why would we – who claim his name – do any less than the magi?
To be better followers of Christ, we must become better servants of Christ. The magi prostrate themselves before the Christ Child and do him homage to demonstrate their subservience to him, their surrender of themselves into his service. When we enter the Church, we genuflect before the tabernacle to show our respect to the presence of Christ. Whether we genuflect consciously or perfunctorily (out of habit), we give an outward sign of our subservience to Christ. But outwards signs are easy. What about the true subservience the outward sign is suppose to mark? As followers of Christ, we are vowed to not only show Christ respect as our teacher and Savior but we are also vowed to become Christ for the salvation of the world. Meaning? We are vowed to move beyond respect and obedience toward taking on the mind of Christ. And from taking on the mind of Christ to becoming Christ for others. Our worship of Christ in this church this evening is nothing less than an outward sign of our desire to become him whom we eat and drink. His body. His blood. His soul and divinity – to the very limit of our own humanity. Prostration for us is not just a posture for your body. Paying homage to him can never be perfunctory. These are the surrender of your intellect and will to the Way, the Truth, and the Life who suffered for you, died for you, and rose from the grave for you. To put this in the form of a question: when you go out there tonight and tomorrow and the next day, are you – in thought, word, and deed – an epiphany of Christ for others? Do you reveal the Father's mercy to sinners?
Our Father's mercy is given flesh and bone in the gift of the divine person of Jesus Christ born among us through Mary. We are given mercy in the form of a man. The magi confess the divine kingship of this man, this child, by opening before him their treasures, showing that they know and understand and accept who and what he is and what he has been sent to do. At our baptism, we receive the gift of divine mercy. Freed from original sin and made members of the Body, the Church, we are charged with living out our lives in mercy. As followers and servants of Christ we have a single, priceless treasure we can open before our king, a treasure he himself died to ensure we would receive – the treasure of limitless forgiveness, boundless mercy. The magi offer gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And we too can offer our time, talent, and worldly treasure to the work of the Church. But there's a limit to gold, frankincense, myrrh, time, talent, and worldly treasure. To put on the mind of Christ on the way to becoming Christ, we must offer the one treasure we possess which possesses no limit – our freedom to forgive. If we cannot forgive, we cannot love sacrificially; if we cannot love sacrificially, we cannot become Christ for others.
Finally, the magi offer their gifts to the Christ Child. Gifts are freely given and freely received. No strings. No conditions. No expectations. Freely given means freely given. Freely received means freely received. The Father sent His Son to become one of us so that His mercy might live among us in flesh and bone. He – the Son – was freely given. Now, we must freely receive him. Without strings, conditions, or expectations. Freely receiving Christ means freely receiving the Father's gift of forgiveness. What gift can we offer back to the Father in thanksgiving? Gold, incense, and myrrh? No. We offer back in daily sacrifice the one gift that the Father deems worthy of His Son's own sacrifice: our lives. We offer before our king our hearts and minds and give to him our daily work and words so that the Good News of His mercy is made known by our hands and mouths. When we offer our daily work and words in the name of Christ, we already know that these gifts are freely received by the Father b/c Christ sits at His right hand ready to intercede for us, his servants and friends.
To be better servants of Christ, we follow the example of the magi at Bethlehem. We prostrate our intellect and will in homage and in defiance of pride, striving to become Christ for others. We open our gifts, especially the gift of mercy, and forgive sacrificially. And we offer to the Father the one gift that He sent His Son to save – our very lives.
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