The solemnity of the Epiphany was one of the first feasts celebrated by the Church, much sooner than Christmas. The reason for its importance lies in the fact that this feast is about the contemplation of the mystery kept hidden for generations and millennia and finally revealed fully in Jesus, the Son of God made flesh.
It is the mystery of the Father’s wish to save everyone. It is the mystery of the Father’s wish to have everyone become a child of his and, eventually, to be forever in his loving embrace, at HOME, in heaven.
The realization of this grandiose dream of our God, as today’s readings suggest, depends on a successful acceptance and exchange of gifts. They are gifts from God to us and gifts exchanged among us, horizontally, within the Body of Christ.
The vertical and horizontal posts of a cross, the symbol of our salvation, stand to indicate the two exchanges of gifts. The vertical post of the cross reminds us of the most solid fact that the gift exchange is always initiated by God.
It is the supernatural outcome of his infinite love for us and of his boundless desire to have us all HOME with him in heaven. Yet, a word of caution is necessary at this time to explain why, after so many centuries since the gift exchange began, we still have a lot of people unaware or oblivious of it.
God’s gifts come to us in the “dark of the night,” so to speak. All this is symbolic, of course. See, darkness covers the earth and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the Lord shines. (Isaiah 60:2)
In any age, some people pay attention to the darkness of the night, while others notice and enjoy the brightness of the stars. The setting is the same but the benefit, the enjoyment, and the reassurance, alas, are still for a precious few.
The star of Christ was there in the sky for all to see but only the Magi could see it as a gift from God leading them to the ultimate Gift of the Father, his only Son, born of Mary in Bethlehem. Herod and all Jerusalem were looking at the same sky, but they reached the opposite conclusion and were deeply troubled and unsettled.
The horizontal post of the Cross refers to the gifts exchanged within the Body of Christ, within the Church—and beyond. These riches refer to the individual gifts, talents and skills that each of us has received for the building up and the benefit of the whole Body.
Let me mention a few: our family, the love and support and encouragement that we get from our loved ones, our mental faculties, our positive personality traits, our means, our possessions, our job, and so on. To these we should add all the opportunities we have to be instructed and edified by God’s Word, the sanctification and healing provided by the Sacraments, and all the comfort and the uplifting that we receive by gathering in communal prayer every Sunday. However, these are all gifts which tend to wither and fade away unless we learn to use them to benefit the “New Jerusalem,” the Church: unless we learn to share them for the good of the whole Body.
The gifts from God are doled out around the clock, 24/7, yet only people with genuine faith, people with gratitude in their hearts and an eye that is not distracted by poor gift imitations offered by this world can see and appreciate.
I submit to you that, since Covid-19, we find ourselves enveloped in thicker darkness resulting in quite a few losing hope with sad consequences all around. Thus, the proper use of our gifts should become obvious and pressing:
Use them to share signs of hope with those with a gloomy outlook on life; sustain the discouraged with a vision about a much better future, by pointing out feasible means and concrete steps to be taken towards its fulfillment; keep motivating the unmotivated; work on a reachable goal with the disenchanted; encourage the timid; show to others how to handle refusals, severe trials and acute suffering without crumbling; and inform the lonely and the isolated about community activities designed to make them feel useful and fulfilled, and so on.
In church, we gather to give thanks to God for his countless gifts. In accepting them wholeheartedly, we gain unshakable certainty that we, too, can be generous about sharing our gifts. Sustained by the Gifts available to us every time we gather to do Eucharist, we reenergize and motivate ourselves so that, also through our joyful sharing, less people may by troubled and unsettled by darkness and more people may find hope and reassurance in view of rising in splendor and shining radiance.