SERMON – Solemnity of the Feast of the Epiphany
January 8, 2012
+In the Name…
“…and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (St. Matthew 2:10-11).
The Magi had traveled from distant countries, or as one strong element of Church tradition asserts, from Persia. They were men of some form of leadership and learning: possibly rulers, and most probably, men given to astrology and alchemy.
We do know that they traveled far to behold what the signs in the Zodiac told them had taken place. The Gospel of St. Matthew tells us that they traveled to Jerusalem, and upon their arrival asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” Upon their arrival to the place of this new King’s birth, we are told, “they fell down and worshipped him.”
The question is: Why would these non-Jews come to worship him whom they discerned had been born king of the Jews? They must have discerned that His kingship was for Jews and Gentiles alike. In a sense, they were prophetic characters, in the sense that the Good News of God being given first to the Jews was to be extended in time to all peoples – to Jews and Gentiles alike. Like so many prophetic characters in the history of redemption, they did not see themselves as prophetic; but they were!
The worship they offered to the Christ Child was more than respect and homage. It was a true falling down before the One they discerned as the answer and the fulfillment of their search for truth. It was worship of the One Whom they perceived was worthy of worship. We simply don’t know if from their worship, they then went out as the first Gentile evangelists of the Gospel for all peoples and nations, or whether they left the manger to ponder all of this further in their hearts, as did the Blessed Virgin. We’re only told by St. Matthew in his Gospel that, “…warned in a dream not to return to Herod (the Roman “king” of Jerusalem), they departed to their own country by another way.”
There is a strain of Church tradition which states that one of the Magi was baptized by St. Thomas the Apostle on his way to India. Another tradition has their remains found by St. Helena, who brought them to Constantinople. Eventually the remains made their way to Germany, where the Shrine of the Three Kings was erected at the Cathedral in Cologne.
Our spiritual focus today is primarily to be on their act of worship, and upon the gifts they brought and gave to the Holy Child of Bethlehem, because we are to do the same in our love of Him. We worship Him, and we offer Him our gifts – most of all, “our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice” – as so clearly and beautifully stated in the traditional Anglican Eucharistic Canon of the Mass.
I have recently begun to read volume one of three of Louis Bouyer’s A History of Christian Spirituality. I have wanted to do this for many years.
Dr. Bouyer wrote something, I believe, that is illuminative of what it means to give “our selves, our sous and bodies” to the Lord God.
He speaks of the first of the Beatitudes of Jesus, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God,” saying that the “poor in spirit” means those who seek to be faithful and open to God. He writes: “The poverty that is blessed is not any kind of trusting poverty, but the poverty which results from a total generosity. It is the poverty which reproduces the generosity of God himself, which does not give because we have been given to, nor in order to receive in return: which gives for the sake of giving.”
This means that what we do as Christians is to be what God does in Christ. He loves and He gives. Full stop. Jesus was blessed by God in so doing, and so we will find a blessing in imitating Jesus.
We come to and before God, as St. Peter wrote in his First Epistle General, “like living stones,” to be “built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God the Father” (2:5).
We give ourselves to God, and we come to God to be used for what He chooses to do with us, who have given ourselves to Him and who have come to Him. He is the Potter, and we are the clay. Jesus is the Vine, and we are the branches. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and we are the sheep to be led. Peter was told by Jesus to tend and feed the sheep, and we are on a journey for Peter to continue to do so for Jesus. Praise God for leading us to and on this journey.
In the Mass, I (for you) as an ordained priest, re-present the Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ that He made to the Father for our salvation. He offered His Body and Blood as Priest and Victim of the Sacrifice. We receive His Body and Blood sacramentally, so that His life is in us. Jesus said, “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…so he who eats me will live because of me” (John 6:53,57). We are thus fed and equipped to be a “holy priesthood” shaped by His priesthood in order to bring Him to others, and others to Him through the Church, whose “supreme law” (as expressed in the Decree of Erection for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter) is “the salvation of souls.”
We worship Christ because, “in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” as St. Paul wrote to the Colossians. We worship Him, for as the Te Deum Laudamus states of Him,
“Thou art the King of glory, O Christ; thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.” We worship Him as the Te Deum continues because, “When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Thou sittest at the right hand of God, in the glory of the Father.”
We give Him our selves, our souls and bodies because He saved and is saving us; because He lived out His own teaching: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends;” and because He is God. We do this so that we are men and women who appropriate more and more the high vocation of being entrusted with, as St. Paul states, “the ministry of reconciliation (II Corinthians 5:19) – humbly and prayerfully striving to lead others to a reconciliation of their lives with God in Christ; a reconciliation with God in Christ, which we have known and for which we rejoice, and with His Church, which we seek, as “ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us’ (5:20).
He received gold for He was the King of kings. He received frankincense because His divinity called for worship – incense being the symbol of what priests offer to God in worship. Jesus was and is our great High priest before the Father. He received myrrh, the precious ointment for burial preparations, because He would die in His love for the world, manifested by and in His sacrificial and atoning death on the Cross – laid in a tomb, but rising from it, leaving the burial wrappings behind.
So, as we go back in time this day to ponder the visitation of the Magi, let us go forward in the times ahead of us in heart and mind to offer Christ Jesus worship, praise, glory, and thanksgiving, and the offering of our selves (morning, noon, and night) for all He is; for all He does; for all He promises. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. O come, let us adore Him.
+In the Name…