adoration-of-the-magiYear B Epiphany

For a long time I thought that the Epiphany was only about the 3 Wisemen, but it’s actually about much more. The feast of the Epiphany has three major significations. The first is the arrival of the Three Kings, or Magi. The second is the Baptism of Our Lord. The third is the Wedding at Cana.

In the daily office, the connection is made clear in the antiphon for the Benedictus, which reads, “Today the Bridegroom claims his bride, the Church, since Christ has washed her sins away in Jordan’s waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding; and the guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine, alleluia.”

The wedding at Cana is the first public miracle Our Lord performs, and it is closely connected with his revelation in the Mass. The Water and Wine are mingled in a sign of Our Lord’s union of human and divine, both of which are fully present in him. At Cana, he first reveals himself in his public ministry. He is the Son of God, and in him all ordinary creatures are revealed to be potential vessels of divine grace. Consider our own souls, as small and insignificant we seem, God creates his grace there by his own desire and so shifts the character of our being.

The Baptism, too, re-shapes the soul. The person who emerges from its waters is not the same person who entered. Our Lord is the exception, because he had no sins to be left behind and was already fitted for supernatural virtue before he ever stepped into the Jordan, meaning that he did so not for his own benefit but for ours, and so he reveals that he will join us in our death and become the principle by which we rise.

And of course, the Magi make this connection between the Epiphany and the Death and Resurrection of Our Lord even more clear. They bring him gifts to prepare him not only for his burial but also to recognize his rightful place as resurrected King and Prophet. Like the Magi, our lives are re-oriented when Our Lord is revealed. We are drawn into his orbit and confront questions of our own creation and subsequent re-creation. He is center of our existence.

The magi bring him gifts. We must bring him more. We bring him our very selves, because without him we are nothing. We belong to him, and he to us.

But first, we must find him.

The Magi are looking, seeking him in the beauty of the night sky, pondering the mystery of the stars, seeing how the heavens reflect the heart of their creator. And once they see the sign that lights the way, they are willing to follow. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins ponders the separation of human from God, writing, “Moonless darkness stands between.” The only path through that darkness requires trust in divine providence, for if, “darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples,” as the prophet Isaiah writes, it is also true that, “Upon you the LORD shines.” It is God who beckons us home. It is he who arrives on Christmas day to close the divide, to light our path through the dark and cold desert. Hopkins writes it is the Bethlehem-star that leads us to the side of Christ, and it is by his side in adoration that we are freed from the darkness of the sinful people we have been in the past. Whatever sins we are willing to name, he forgives. Whatever sorrow we bring him, he accepts. Whatever joy we retain, he renews. Hopkins asks of the Christ child, “Make me pure, Lord: Thou art holy; Make me meek, Lord: Thou wert lowly.”

The light that cuts through the darkness illumines not only the path forward but also our own faces with the very glory of God. Isaiah writes, “Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow.” Hans Urs Von Balthasar comments on this, writing, “The light came to illumine those who sit in the shadow of tombs, and such illumination required that the radiance of the light be recognized and that one be oneself transformed into streaming light.”

This is the festival of adoration. The crucified and risen Lord has beamed into the gloom and what can we do but fall on our knees and love him? He is with us always, and our adoration rises with every breath we draw, and is marked by every beat of the heart. Don’t take his life within for granted. Pause for a moment, contemplate the gentle rising and falling of his own heart within you, and fall down in adoration before the radiance of eternity himself.

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