The word 'Epiphany' means 'showing forth' or 'revelation'. On today's feast we celebrate God revealing himself, in the person of the baby Jesus, to the pagan wise men from the East. So, at the beginning of Christ's life God reached out to the pagan world and offered it his salvation.
Since those wise men from the East were astrologers, it's not surprising that God should have led them by a star to discover where the promised king of the Jews was to be born. God built on their natural curiosity about the heavens and their skill in interpreting them.
This was the starting-point for a journey, which led to faith in Jesus. Each of us will have our own starting-point, and a special kind of star to guide us in our search for the truth.
But the star did not guide the magi all the way to Christ. For the final stage of their journey they needed to consult the Jewish religious leaders, who said that the Scriptures foretold that the promised king would be born in Bethlehem. We, too, need God's revelation in the Scriptures to discover Christ.
When the wise men found Jesus they saw a normal looking baby. They had to make the leap of faith to recognise that he was not only the promised king of the Jews, but God himself. In Jesus God revealed himself in human form, as a baby, and later as a child and grown man.
That revelation is what we mean by 'Epiphany' or 'showing forth'. In the person of Jesus the almighty and unapproachable God, the creator of heaven and earth, expressed divine love in a human way, a way familiar to us all. He could be seen and heard, embraced with love, and, later, nailed to a cross.
The wise men brought Jesus the precious gifts of gold, acknowledging him as king, frankincense as God, and myrrh foreshadowing his death. In return for these material gifts, Jesus gave them something much more precious -- faith in him. Instinctively they adored him.
This exchange of gifts is reflected in the Mass. As we offer the work of human hands -- bread and wine -- God welcomes our gifts and transforms them into the very person of our crucified and risen Lord. He then gives himself to us as nourishment to strengthen us in our life as Christians.
The feast of the Epiphany is all about call, revelation and mission. God called the pagan wise men to welcome his salvation. He revealed himself to them in the person of the baby Jesus. And when they returned home, they would have told others about the wonders they had seen.
If so, they would have been the first missionaries to the pagan world. Like the magi, we are called to welcome Jesus with faith, and to be epiphanies, proclaiming the Good News.
Though Matthew's Gospel is the most Jewish of the four, it embraces the theme of God reaching out to the whole world -- to both Jews and Gentiles. Near the beginning God reaches out to the pagan world, represented by the magi. At the very end of the Gospel the risen Lord commissions his followers to proclaim the Good News to the whole world.
Finally, in the story of the magi we see this part of the infancy narrative foreshadowing both Christ's death and resurrection. King Herod's attempt to kill Jesus, the King of the Jews, would reach its fulfilment when Christ was crucified as 'King of the Jews'.
The flight to Egypt, whereby Jesus escaped death at Herod's hands, imperfectly foreshadowed his resurrection from the grave. The massacre of the Holy Innocents foreshadowed the opposition and persecution Christ and his followers would meet.The story of the magi contains the central themes of Matthew's Gospel in a nutshell!
Today's feast celebrates God revealing himself in the person of Jesus. This he continues to do in other ways -- in the sacraments, and in the people we meet, especially those in need. We need the God-given sensitivity of the magi to recognise and welcome Jesus in the different ways he manifests himself to us.
Like the pagan wise men we are all called to worship Jesus, as we welcome the salvation he offers to each one of us. Then we must become epiphanies, proclaiming Christ in the way we live and in what we say.