Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
January 7, 2018
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord,
or the “manifestation” of the Lord;
the day the Lord Jesus Christ, showed Himself to the world for the first time.
The day when the 3 magi from the East,
after traveling over a 1000 miles following a star,
searching for the Christ,
found Him and fell at His feet to pay Him homage.
Who were these strangers from the East?
The custom and historical evidence seems to point toward
a class of well-educated pagan priests from Persia, and perhaps Arabia.
These men were well versed in the teachings and Holy books of the Jews,
as well the study of the stars
…sort of 1 part superstitious astrology, 1 part scientific astronomy.
So when they saw the new and magnificently bright star in the heavens,
they probably connected it to the old Testament prophesy
in the book of Numbers:
“A star shall rise out of Jacob
and a scepter shall spring up from Israel”
…and set out to investigate, hoping to find the Messiah
the Jews so often spoke about.
They were truly wise men, searching for the truth,
searching for the truth about God, searching for the Christ.
But they were only doing what men have been doing since the creation,
—whether they knew it or not, mankind has always searched for a God
who would save them the difficulties and sorrows of the world,
from their own deprivations and failures,
from meaningless and loveless existence,
from their own sins, and the sins of the world they lived in.
These three men from “the East” searched and found Him,
in Bethlehem, and His name was Jesus.
Over the centuries billions of others would continue
the searched for their Savior God.
Some would find Him–some would not.
Some who found Him would embrace Him—some would reject Him.
Some who embraced Him would follow Him to heaven
—some would abandon Him for hell.
One man who tried to find Him was another man from the East
—coming from the same area
that some say at least one of the magi came: Arabia
–but born about 570 years later than Christ.
His name was Muhammad.
He was a camel trader who became a wealthy business man,
but he was also given to long hours of prayer and fasting.
Like the 3 magi he was also searching for God,
sickened with the multiplicity of false gods worshipped by his people.
In his search he became acquainted and attracted to
the teachings of the Jews and Christians,
and came to believe in their God.
Unfortunately, he didn’t understand their teachings very well,
and so he wound up rejecting Judaism and Christianity as incomplete,
relegating Jesus to the status of a great and holy prophet.
The 3 magi found Jesus lying in a food trough for animals,
born of a people who had spent the last 550 years
in subjugation to foreign kings.
How easy it would have been to reject him
—but instead, as Matthew tells us:
“They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts
of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
In this they showed that they were not only men of learning
—but also men of wisdom, God’s wisdom—
and so it is fitting to call them, as we often do,
the 3 Wise Men of the East.
Unfortunately for the Arab born 570 years later,
he was not as wise a man as Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar:
he found Jesus, but did not prostrate himself.
We may never know why:
perhaps the faith was not explained to him very well,
perhaps he never had a true opportunity to see Jesus as He really was.
In any case, filled with great zeal and desire to see the Lord,
recognizing Him in the religion of Christians and Jews
but unable to accept Him, he founded a new religion, Islam,
based on some of the basic tenets of Catholicism,
but rejecting the most important: Jesus himself.
1400 years later, we live in a world
where 2.3 billion people have come to accept Christ,
at least nominally, as their Savior.
But 5 billion others do not accept him.
The epiphany of Christ to the world, though partly successful,
seems to have failed.
But it hasn’t really.
Because the Epiphany of the 3 magi was just the beginning
of Christ’s manifestation of Himself to the world.
He continued that manifestation as he traveled around Judea preaching.
And He ordered His apostles to continue it even after He ascended into heaven
“go forth and teach all nations, baptizing them,
in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
And it continues today, as He tells us to do the same.
There’s a lot of talk today about the good and bad attributes of Islam,
and need to the respect Muslims.
And much of this is very important.
But I hear very few people talk about Muslims as being in need of conversion.
Now, I don’t expect politicians to talk that way, that’s not their business.
But I don’t hear much from churchmen about this either
—whether it’s the bishops and priests, or people like you
—no one seems to even think about it.
Why is that?
Islam is not a religion equal in status to Christianity
first and foremost because it lacks the one essential thing
necessary for salvation: JESUS!
Now, don’t misunderstand me:
the Church teaches that though it seems very difficult,
it’s possible for anyone to go to heaven
—Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindi, pagan, secularist—
as long as they sincerely seek the truth about God,
and earnestly try to live according to the truth.
But that doesn’t mean all religions are the same
—or that salvation is found IN Islam.
Salvation comes from Jesus, and Jesus alone.
Is it fair to assume that just because someone might be able to go to heaven
without really knowing Jesus,
that we can leave them in their ignorance.
It’s hard to be a good person,
hard to figure out what’s good and bad, right and wrong,
even when you do know about Jesus and the things He taught.
Can we really leave people on their own to figure it out with nothing more than
a “good luck” and “I’ll pray for you.”
And why would you deprive them of the gift of knowing
Jesus’ love and peace and His grace, and loving Him back.
No, we’re obliged to go out and teach all nations, and baptize them.
It’s not a choice on our part, it’s a command on Jesus’ part.
If we love them, and if we respect them, we will introduce them to the Gospel.
Now, I’ve been speaking about Muslims and Islam.
But that’s really just a not so clever way of saying everyone has to be converted,
even those who seem most unlikely.
That’s exactly what God did in Bethlehem
—He invited the magi from a thousand miles away in Persia and Arabia
—people who would in no way be expected to come
to worship the “King of the Jews.”
And today He holds them out to us to tell us that
that He came to save, literally, the whole world.
In the days of Jesus’ birth, God put a bright new light–like a star–in the sky.
The star was real, but it also symbolized the fact that
Christ is the true light that entered the world on that first Christmas.
That light shines today brightly in the Church he founded,
which is the Catholic Church.
And that light must shine brightly in you and me,
because Christ entered our lives in our baptism.
We can hide that light under a basket, or we can hold it up high,
like a beacon—or a star—bringing in all those who are searching
for the truth, about God and themselves.
Each of us is called to do this in their own way in their own life.
I am called to do it primarily in the pulpit, lectors and the confessional.
But you have to do it in your offices, businesses, playing-fields, schools
and your homes.
And you have to spread it to everyone:
–the atheists or secularists who have no faith
–those of other faiths, like the Muslims.
–and to Jews, and also to the Protestants, who have faith,
but not all of the truth.
And you have to spread it to Catholics too
—too many Catholics wouldn’t recognize Jesus if He walked in here today
and laid Himself down in the manger or climbed up on that Cross.
Or if they do recognize Him they spend absolutely no time
prostrate in adoration before Him.
You have to help them to know Him
—talk to them, give them books, pray with them, bring them to Mass,
or to adoration.
And even before that, we have to make sure that we recognize Christ
—and that we pay Him homage and worship Him as we should.
To be like the magi, giving Him all the gifts we have,
laying them at His feet every day,
eager to do His will, to follow Him wherever He leads us.
Since creation man has searched for God
in the darkest days of an evil and cruel world.
2000 years ago 3 magi from the East
followed the bright light of a star shining in the sky
and found Him lying in manger in Bethlehem.
For 2000 years since then billions of people have found Him
not lying in a manger,
but lying in the heart of his Church
—the light of Christ still shining as it did in that ancient star.
But for 2000 years, billions of other people have also rejected Christ,
and billions have never even known him.
Whether it was that Arabian businessman 1400 years ago
who misunderstood the teachings He found,
or the Arab-American businessman down the block.
Whether it’s the “born again” protestant, who lives next door,
or your fallen away Catholic sister.
All search for him, whether they know it or not.
And all can find Him if we invite them and show them the way,
in the bright shining light of Jesus Christ.