The Epiphany of the Lord (Cycle C) – January 6, 2019

Christmas Time

The Liturgical Season of Christmas Time begins with the vigil Mass on Christmas Eve and then Christmas Day – The Nativity of the Lord, followed by Sunday Masses for: The Feast of the Holy Family, The Epiphany of the Lord, and concludes with The Baptism of the Lord. During this season, we celebrate the birth of Christ into our world and into our hearts, and reflect on the gift of salvation that is born with Him…including the fact that He was born to die for us. The Liturgical Color is white – a festive, joyful color. And, we can say “Merry Christmas” to our friends throughout this entire Christmas Season!

This Sunday’s Theme: Jesus’ Royal Messiahship of Both Jews and Gentiles.

Epiphany means the manifestation (a sign, event, appearance, or action that shows something clearly) of Christ to the Gentiles who are represented by the Magi. On this Sunday, the Church invites us to celebrate the manifestation of God’s universal plan to save all people, Gentiles as well as Jews.

We know little about the Magi. They come from the East and journey to Bethlehem, following an astrological sign, so we believe them to be astrologers. We assume that there were three Magi based upon the naming of their three gifts. The Gospel does not say how many Magi paid homage to Jesus. Eventually, they were named Caspar, Balthasar and Melchior in the Western Church. In Matthew’s Gospel, they represent the Gentiles’ search for a Savior. Because the Magi represent the entire world, they also represent our search for Jesus.

During epiphany we see how God epiphanies Himself through Jesus. It is the people of God empowered with the gifts of the Holy Spirit who reveal the risen Christ to the world through acts of creation, love, healing, and liberation. We of the Church are called to be an ever-unfolding epiphany of God’s love and power to the dark world seeking desperately for such epiphanies.

Historically several moments in Christ’s early life and ministry have been celebrated as “epiphanies,” including His birth in Bethlehem, the visit of the Magi, His baptism by John the Baptist, and His first miracle at Cana.

“Theology is faith in search of understanding.”(St. Anselm) – As the Magi searched for Jesus, we also must search for Him by using the Scriptures, attending Church, emulating the Saints, and through prayer. Be like the Blessed Mother Mary in Her search for understanding – Like 2:19 “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in Her Heart.” 

“Lord Jesus, grant me the perseverance of the Magi to search out and follow Your Light even when darkness surrounds me.” (Gayle Somers – a Catholic apologist)

Reading 1 Isaiah 60:1-6     Jerusalem shall be a Light to all nations.

Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,10-13     Every nation on earth shall worship the Lord.

Reading 2 – Ephesians 3:2-3a,5-6     Gentiles are coheirs in the promise of Christ.

Gospel Matthew 2:1-12     The Magi seek out Jesus and do Him homage (reverence; worship).

This Bible Study’s primary references used are from St Joseph Sunday Missal,,, Ascension Catholic Church Sunday Reflections, USCCB, Understanding the Scriptures by Scott Hahn, St Thomas Aquinas’ Works, RSV Oxford Annotated Bible, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, St Charles Borromeo Bible Studies, LUMINA Bible Study, The Franciscans St. Anthony’s Guild, and Haydock’s Catholic Bible Commentary.

 NOTE: The Lectionary Bible Readings for this Sunday – Readings 1 & 2, Responsorial Psalm, and the Gospel, all appear in purple in the following. Footnotes are included in these passages and the contents of all the footnotes appear at the end of this document. 

Reading 1     Isaiah 60:1-6                            (God Returns to Jerusalem)

Context – The keynote of the Book of Isaiah is salvation (Isaiah’s name means “Jehovah saves”). He was the prophet of the southern kingdom, Judah, and lived at the time (ie. 742 – 687 BC) when the northern kingdom, Israel, whose capital was Jerusalem, was destroyed. At this time all that was left of the old kingdom of David was Judah, which included the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and the Levites. He prophesized for 64 years. He prophesized doom for a sinful Judah and Israel and for all the nations of the world that oppose God. Then, he prophesized God’s restoration of the nation of Israel, including Judah, and this is interpreted by Christians as prefiguring the coming of Christ. After the Psalms, Isaiah is the Old Testament book most quoted in the New Testament.

Todays’ Reading – This reading begins by announcing that Jerusalem’s days of darkness are over (a reference to Israel’s time in exile). God is about to bring a New Dawn to Israel. So great will the new Light on Jerusalem be that all the Nations (a reference to the Gentiles) will be drawn to the city bearing all kinds of gifts. This prophecy will be fulfilled when Jesus invites all people to come into His Light. The Magi are the first Gentiles to respond to Jesus’ invitation.

Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your Light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears His glory. Nations shall walk by your Light, and kings [i]  by your shining radiance. Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.

Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow, for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you, the wealth of nations shall be brought to you. Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you. 

Responsorial Psalm –     Psalm 72: 1-2, 7-8, 10-13              (The Messiah-King)                         

“Lord, every nation on earth will adore You” speaks of God’s universal plan to save all people, thereby connecting this psalm to the overall theme of this Sunday’s readings.

R. – Lord, every nation on earth will adore You.
O God, with Your judgment endow the king, and with Your justice, the King’s son
[ii]; He shall govern Your people with justice and Your afflicted ones with judgment.
R. – Lord, every nation on earth will adore You.
Justice shall flower in His days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more. May He rule from sea to sea, and from the River
(Euphrates) to the ends of the earth.
R. – Lord, every nation on earth will adore You.
The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts; the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute. All kings shall pay Him homage, all nations shall serve Him.
R. – Lord, every nation on earth will adore You.
For He shall rescue the poor when he cries out, and the afflicted when he has no one to help him. He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor; the lives of the poor He shall save.
R. – Lord, every nation on earth will adore You.

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.

Reading 2     Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6                          (Good News for the Gentiles)

Context – Ephesians sets before us a vision of Christ reigning in Heaven next to the Father and renewing the earth through His Church. It shows God’s saving work through Jesus. The Church is nothing less than God’s new creation in Christ.

Today’s Reading – In these verses, Paul speaks about his special mission to bring the Good News to the Gentiles — thus connecting this reading with the general theme of the day. The “secret plan” of God now revealed by Jesus to Paul and the Apostles is the total equality of Jews and Gentiles in God’s plan of salvation.

Brothers and sisters: You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me [iii] for your benefit, namely, that the mystery [iv] was made known to me by revelation. It was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the [Holy] Spirit: that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.  

Gospel     Matthew 2:1-12                 (Magi with Gifts)

Context – Matthew’s Gospel, written prior to 70 AD, is the first book of the New Testament, not because it was written first – some of Paul’s epistles take that honor – but because it is a bridge between the Old and New Testaments. St. Matthew, a Jew, was also called Levi, and was one of the twelve apostles of Christ. Originally, he was a Publican – a tax collector and was deeply despised by his fellow Jews because of that position. His Gospel was written first and foremost for the Jews and he wanted to prove to them that Jesus is the One to whom all the Jewish Prophets point: the Messiah, the Christ, the King of the Jews, to whom all the Old Testament prophets spoke. To accomplish his mission, He uses more Old Testament quotations and references than any other Gospel. The emblem for St. Matthew was given the symbol of a man because his Gospel accents Christ’s human origins. St. Matthew died a martyr’s death in Ethiopia.

Today’s Reading – The Gospel is fulfillment of Reading 1, which speaks of all the nations streaming to Jerusalem bearing gifts for the new King. The Magi represent the non-Jewish world; who are seekers of God, in their own way. The Magi’s journey to Bethlehem in search of the new King is symbolic of the journey all seekers must take. So, Epiphany is not only a feast in which we celebrate God’s manifestation of Himself to the Gentile world, but also it celebrates our movement toward God.

When Matthew was writing his Gospel in 80 A.D., his own people had almost totally rejected Jesus and large groups of Gentiles were accepting Him. This rejection/acceptance dynamic is present in today’s Gospel. Herod’s plot to kill Jesus symbolizes Israel’s leaders’ rejection of Him and the Magi’s acceptance of Him symbolizes the Gentiles’ movement toward Jesus. This rejection/acceptance dynamic will be played out many times in Matthew’s Gospel. The Pharisees will close their hearts to Jesus and the Gentiles will open their hearts to Him.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, Magi from the east [v]  arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the Newborn King of the Jews? We saw His star at its rising and have come to do Him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd My people Israel.” (Micah 5:2) Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may go and do Him homage.” After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the Child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house [vi] they saw the Child with Mary His mother. They prostrated themselves and did Him homage [vii]. Then they opened their treasures and offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh [viii]. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          The Guiding Star. Balaam, an Old Testament soothsayer (a mystical person but not a prophet) knew Yahweh, submitted to Him, and received revelations from Him. In particular Balaam stated, as recorded in Numbers 24:17 – “I see Him, though not now; I observe Him, though not near: A star shall advance from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise from Israel, …”. The “star” was a common symbol for a king in biblical and non-biblical ancient Near Eastern literature. This connection finds support in the reference to the “scepter” in the next line. This might have been a foretelling of the “star” and the “scepter” that was in the minds of the Magi who, 600 years later, came from Balaam’s country to Bethlehem to look for the promised King of the Jews.
Connections: Balaam – Daniel – Magi. The Magi of the first century B.C. were known to have studied the writings of Daniel and possibly other Jewish writings Daniel likely referenced, such as the book of Numbers (containing the above-mentioned Balaam’s prophecy). Daniel’s prophecies predicted the exact time when the Messiah would be born (Daniel 9:25).  So, the Magi of the first century B.C. knew of the time of the Event (as prophesized by Daniel 600 years previously) and all of a sudden, this great Star appears at the exact predicted time of the event! Thus, the beginning of the Magi’s journey, that took them two years to finally arrive at Jesus’ birth place in Bethlehem. (Again, as stated in the above Gospel, “entering the house, they saw Jesus”. By this time, JMJ had moved into a house from the stable.) Soon after the visit of the Magi, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him to flee to Egypt with Mary and the infant Jesus since King Herod would seek the Child to kill Him. My opinion – the gift of gold given by the Magi, made it possible to sustain the Holy Family during their stay in Egypt. This was God’s providential gift to JMJ. God used the Magi to deliver this gift, just as He uses us to do His will.  

Catechism 528 – The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world. The great feast of Epiphany celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the wise men (Magi) from the East, together with His baptism in the Jordan and the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. In the Magi, representatives of the neighboring pagan religions, the Gospel sees the first-fruits of the nations, who welcome the good news of salvation through the Incarnation. The Magi’s coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the King of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic Light of the star of David, the One who will be King of the nations. Their coming means that pagans can discover Jesus and worship Him as Son of God and Savior of the world only by turning towards the Jews and receiving from them the messianic promise as contained in the Old Testament. The Epiphany shows that “the full number of the nations” now takes its “place in the family of the patriarchs”, and acquires Israelitica dignitas (is made “worthy of the heritage of Israel”).

[i]  Reading 1 Footnotes:
“kings” = This is a prophesy about the Maji visiting the Christ Child.
[ii]  Responsorial Psalm Footnote:
“the King’s Son” = The King is God and thee Son is Jesus.
[iii]  Reading 2 Footnotes:
“stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me” = Paul’s responsibility was to carry God’s grace to all people, but particularly to the Gentiles.
[iv]  “mystery” made known to Paul = This mystery refers to the fact that both Gentiles and Jews were equal partners in the church.
[v]  Gospel Footnotes:
“Magi from the east” = From ancient Persia which is today Iran and Afghanistan. The Magi are the first Gentiles to the Kingship of Jesus.
[vi]  Maji met Jesus in the “house” = Most scriptures represent the wise men adoring Jesus in the stable, and in the manger. yet others, with St. Chrysostom, take notice that before their arrival, Jesus might have been removed into some little house in Bethlehem.
[vii]  “did Him homage” = They worshipped and adored Him as their Savior and their God.
[viii]  “gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” = The mystical signification of these offerings are: gold signified the tribute they paid to Him, as to their King; frankincense signified that He was God; and myrrh, (with which dead bodies used to be embalmed) signified that now He was also a mortal Man.