(See the readings for the Epiphany of the Lord, Jan. 5, 2020.)
Joy is an experience “of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure or elation” (Dictionary.com).
Joy is something many people associate with Christmas. The songs we sing, such as “Joy to the World,” emphasize the elation at the birth of the Savior. The celebrations during the past couple weeks with family, friends, colleagues and neighbors all strike the tone of happiness. Our prayers at Mass during this season accent the experience. The Joyful Mysteries of the rosary are all associated with the Lord’s coming. The center of all this joy is Jesus.
Today we continue our celebration of Christmas with the Epiphany of the Lord. In many cultures, today is the day of gift giving as that practice finds its inspiration in the gifts of the Magi. The practice of giving something to others is a way of sharing the joy of the season – the joy of the Lord’s birth. God the Father’s gift to the world is recognized and we want to celebrate that gift by giving.
Isaiah calls us to joy as we hear his words: “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.” In Matthew’s Gospel today we hear the familiar story of the Magi from the East coming to look for the newborn “King of the Jews.” After their interlude with Herod in Jerusalem, they continue the journey. The evangelist tells us: “They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.”
They were “overjoyed” at seeing the star, because the star will lead them to Jesus.
The joy we experience at the Lord’s birth is for everyone. In a way, the celebration of the Epiphany mirrors the Christmas celebration. At Christmas, we hear the angels announcing the good news of the Lord’s birth to the shepherds of Bethlehem. They come to pay their homage to the newborn Jesus in the manger. Today, it is the Magi who visit and prostrate themselves before the King.
The shepherds represent the faithful of Israel, the Chosen People, the people through whom the advent of the messiah was prepared. The Magi represent the Gentiles, the non-Jews, the people of all nations. Taken together, we see the plan of God for Jesus is that he is for all peoples and nations. He is the Savior of the world, and all will be one through him.
Reflecting on the immediate preparations for the Lord’s birth with the annunciations to Mary, Joseph and Zechariah, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth and the birth of John the Baptist, we see that so much of God’s saving plan and preparation for the birth of his Son involves human beings. If we go further back into salvation history, we see that God’s plan involved many human beings, who in one way or another helped prepare the way for the Lord. Many of these people either directly or indirectly point us to or lead us to Jesus as the star did for the Magi.
Perhaps as we celebrate the Epiphany (which means “manifestation,” “showing forth” or “revelation”) we might consider those who have helped lead us to the Lord, who have pointed the way, who have brought us to the manger and invited us to share that joy. As we do this, we give thanks for God who enlists these people to carry on his work and share his joy. Perhaps as we consider these people, we may realize in a new way that God calls us as well to share both the joy and the Gift that we have received.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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