Homily – Epiphany Sunday Year C 2016
Homily – The Epiphany of the Lord
The pastor of a tiny country church had been having trouble with stewardship and tithes and offerings. One Sunday he announced, “Now, before we receive the offering, I would like to request that the person who stole the eggs from Widow Jones’s chicken coop please refrain from giving any money to the Lord. God doesn’t want money from a thieving sinner.”
The offering plate was passed, and for the first time in months everybody gave.
In the stories of Jesus’ birth, two special groups of people came to visit the new-born babe: the shepherds and the magi. The church has no special feast to commemorate the visit of the shepherds but we have this special feast of Epiphany today to celebrate the visit of the magi. Why is that? It is because the visit of the magi is an eye-opener. The shepherds learnt of the birth of Jesus through a direct revelation from angels appearing in the midnight sky. This is direct and supernatural revelation. Many of us have no problem with that. The magi, on the other hand, learnt of the birth of Jesus by observing a star. The star did not say anything to them. They had to interpret this natural sign of the star to know what it meant and where it led. If we remember that the magi or the three wise men were nature worshippers, people who divined God’s will by reading the movements of the stars and other heavenly bodies, then we can see how the visit of the magi challenges some of our popular beliefs.
We moderns no longer recognize the meaning and purpose of homage. In earlier times it was a public act, a public acknowledgment of the submission of one’s self in allegiance to another. When one renders homage to another one enters into a commitment to engage in the purpose and mission of the other. Sub-mission means to be a part of a mission, part of a purpose. Perhaps the idea is strange to a people who see only self-affirmation and taking care of the needs of one’s self as their only purpose in life.
Homage was the reason and purpose of the quest of these magi. And to consummate their contract or to make their contract real and binding, they bring their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold symbolizes worldly power, incense symbolizes the mystery of God, and myrrh symbolizes the one thing we all share in common and which the Christ-child would profoundly share with us, death.
Often we hear the complaint, “I don’t go to Mass because I don’t get anything out of it.” Perhaps those who feel that way have forgotten the real reason for coming to Mass is to not to be entertained but to worship, to give honor, reverence, worship and homage, along with all other Christians who, from the very beginning, knew why they were coming into the presence of God. Did those who first came to Christ do so in order to get something, or in order to give their gifts to the Christ?
I used to tell my teachers ‘not to bring any of their personal grievances or family problems into the school. Leave them outside the school gate and get them back on your way home’. Whereas, when we come to the church definitely our tears, griefs, challenges and joys are the precious gifts that we bring to the Lord as homage. The peace, deliverance and joy that we receive from the Lord is the sign of God’s affirmation of our deal between Jesus and us.