The story of the three kings from the East, bringing gifts to baby Jesus in Bethlehem, is one that we all remember from childhood. Even now it conjures up exotic images of courage, open mindedness, and faith.
But, for a moment, let us strip it of its glamor and romanticism. This we ought to do to change from being mere spectators which we become whenever we are reluctant to get in the thick of things, to become active participants as the Word of God is actualized and lived by us in this liturgy of the Epiphany.
Those three kings represent both the new influx of believers into the Church, the New Jerusalem, and the embodiment of the inner attitude of anyone seeking way of worshipping the Lord in Spirit and truth as the only one which he desires.
The term epiphany can be taken first as the way God chooses to get us involved as full participants. It is THE Epiphany, the manifestation of God’s plan of salvation which includes everyone, Jew, and Gentile alike.
It was foretold already by the prophet Isaiah in a grandiose way: Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you…Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you. (Isaiah 60: 1, 4)
Alas, historically, most of those to whom God first proposed to become participants in his plan, did not share his divine enthusiasm. Some remained distant spectators, while others began to be consumed by jealousy as they felt that their privileged status was disappearing. It would have been beneficial to have throngs of people from distant lands bringing precious gifts to Jerusalem and then returning to their countries of origin. But a closer reading of the prophecy reveals that Yahweh God had in mind to make them Jerusalem’s new sons and daughters, thus cheapening the uniqueness of God’s chosen people by the influx of so many from all nations and lands.
The first chapters of the Acts of the Apostles show that in the early Church, the New Jerusalem, Christians of Jewish extraction, too, were reluctant to accept Gentiles as new members unless they were first initiated into the Mosaic law, including circumcision. This must be the reason why the evangelist Matthew included in his Gospel the story of the Magi from distant lands coming to pay homage to the Newborn King of the Jews (the Lord Jesus) bearing royal gifts.
In the Letter to the Ephesians (3:2-3a, 5-6), St. Paul had to reiterate the same concept, to get it accepted by those who considered themselves the elite of the New Jerusalem, the Church: It was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel. (Ephesians 3:5-6)
Truth be told, as we have seen, God’s plan was made known to people in previous generations but, due to their jealousy and narrow mindedness, it had to be reproposed to the Church, the New Jerusalem, as if it were a new plan in the hope of a better reception and full participation in it.
The same is true nowadays: if we consider today’s readings as the Word of God fulfilled even now, in the present, we are forced to draw serious conclusions. Humanly speaking if a privilege is shared by many, it ceases being a privilege because human resources are limited. The opposite is true when the promoter of a privilege is God. His riches are infinite; his power boundless; his generosity inexhaustible. Hence, the way of worshipping in Spirit and truth proposed by Jesus must result in an array of emotions that we should feel only whenever contemplating God’s plan of salvation.
The Eucharist is the best way of worshipping God in Spirit and truth. The fundamental driving force of the Eucharist is immense gratitude for the blood of Christ shed on the cross. It remains forever undeserved by us and by any newcomer.
Yes, at every Holy Mass, we must be filled with gratitude and joy thinking that even if every single person on the face of the earth were to join our divine family, they would still be unable to exhaust God’s love and care for each one of his children.
Yes, gratitude and joy: while darkness covers the earth, we can be immersed in the light of Christ shining into our minds and hearts from the Table of the Word until the light of Christ becomes our light.
Then, made one with Christ Jesus through Holy Communion, we heed God’s call to stewardship, to sharing that faith with others: we are to let people walk in the light of what we believe, profess, and live out.
And finally, at every Eucharist, as we become full participants in his plan of salvation, we must be surprised to see that our poverty is filled with riches, our timidity turned into courage, our aloofness into involvement, our selfishness into stewardship, our resignation and prostration into enthusiasm and optimism.