“On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother…they prostrated themselves and did him homage.” The Gospel for today’s feast of the Epiphany tells us that the three Magi from the East, as soon as they see the child Jesus in the arms of Our Lady, understand something of who He is, and offer Him worship. This act of recognizing the Lord and bowing down before Him represent the entire heart of the Epiphany celebration. Though this feast originally commemorated three separate occasions in Christ’s life—the visit of the Magi, Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan, and the Wedding at Cana—all are connected by this moment of recognition, of beginning to see Christ for who He really is. This moment, whenever it happens, in the lives of those who knew the earthly Jesus, or in our own lives today, is so important, that it almost equals the weight of Christmas Day itself.
We don’t usually assign much importance in the present day to Epiphany. We relegate it to a distant second behind Christmas itself, and in fact, by this moment, the glow of the Christmas season may have already begun to fade for us. Certainly, the secular world has begun to move on, and the brief space left for quiet and peace begins to close. It should not be so. Yes, Christ has already come, and His birthday is already more than a week ago. Yes, Mary and Joseph already have to begin thinking about practical matters of offering sacrifice for their purification, finding more secure lodgings, and caring for the new child. Yet, we might well say that Christmas is not complete in any one of us, it hasn’t truly come to pass, until we recognize the Lord for who He is, meeting Him face to face, and bow down in worship.
This moment of loving recognition and adoration happened immediately for Mary, moments later for St. Joseph, and that same Christmas night for the shepherds keeping watch in their fields. For the Magi, however, true Christmas awaits until they arrive in Bethlehem and offer their gifts. It would be completed in John the Baptist when he saw the Spirit as a dove descend up Jesus at His Baptism, and when he heard the voice of the Father saying from heaven: “this is my beloved Son.” Christmas would truly come to pass for the earliest disciples when they witnessed Christ’s first miracle, changing water into wine.
What about for us? When is our Epiphany? When does the glory of Christmas, the light of God’s presence among us, the warmth of Jesus’ love, come to dwell in our souls? Perhaps it has already happened. Maybe it took place in a quiet way early on, in our childhood experience of receiving the Sacraments. It may have taken place when we saw the merciful Lord erase from our souls a sin that caused us shame, grief, and guilt, using only the words of absolution in the confessional. It may have happened in Adoration, during the Mass, while caring for another soul, or receiving care ourselves. Perhaps we are unsure if our own Epiphany has yet brought home to us the reality of Christ’s loving presence. Whenever that moment is, the right response is the loving and grateful worship and homage of the Magi, the adoration that leads us to offer the best of what we have to the God who has so loved us. Of course, whether or not we can pinpoint the moment of Epiphany in each of our hearts, we can always offer our gifts in homage to Christ, saying with our deeds at least, that we know His identity as our Savior and King.