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“You have come and revealed Yourself, O Inaccessible Light.”

A Scriptural Reflection on the Readings for Sunday, January 2, 2022, the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

Detail from "Adoration of the Magi" (Adorazione dei Magi" (c. 1304-06) by Giotto [WikiArt.org]

Readings:
• Is 60:1-6
• Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13
• Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6
• Mt 2:1-12

“You have revealed Yourself to the world today, and your light, O Lord, has shined upon us,” declares one of the Byzantine kontakions, or hymns, for the Feast of the Epiphany (called the Feast of the Theophany in the Eastern churches). “You have come and revealed Yourself, O Inaccessible Light.”

As is common in many of the Eastern hymns and prayers, there is joyous reveling in the great mystery and paradox of the Incarnation. God is inaccessible, yet has made himself accessible in the most surprising way: by being born in a cave to a Jewish virgin. “Behold,” states the Christmas Vespers, “the image of the Father and his immutable Eternity has taken the form of a servant!” The Creator has become creature; the Eternal has become man; the Divine has taken on flesh.

Today’s feast celebrates the epiphaneia—that is, the appearance and manifestation—of God in the form of a man, Jesus of Nazareth. Down through time, between the East and the West, the feast has focused to varying degrees on three key events: the visitation of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, and the turning of water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana. Each of these events manifests and reveals the truth of the Incarnation and spills forth the glory of God.

The magi, traveling afar (likely from Persia), paid homage to the newborn King of kings. They represent the first of the Gentiles brought into the family of God through the Christ-child (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 528). St. Paul, in today’s epistle, writes of the “mystery” that “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body,” the Church. The “catholic” nature of the new covenant would, of course, prove to be a source of consternation and conflict, just as the questions asked by the magi would provoke Herod to jealousy and rage.

We are so familiar with the story of the magi that it is possible to be dulled to the paradox of wealthy, educated rulers from the East bestowing precious gifts upon a Jewish baby in a humble home with a dirt floor. Was the star enough to convince them of the baby’s importance? Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2007 homily for this feast day, said there was something more. “In comparison with King Herod,” he said, “beset with his interests of power and riches, the Magi were directed toward the goal of their quest and when they found it, although they were cultured men, they behaved like the shepherds of Bethlehem: they recognized the sign and adored the Child, offering him the precious and symbolic gifts that they had brought with them.”

What the magi recognized, by God’s grace, was the presence of glory, light, and splendor, cradled in the arms of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Today’s Old Testament reading from the prophet Isaiah describes how darkness and thick clouds “covers the peoples”—the nations of the earth—but that light has come to Jerusalem, “the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” Many of the Jews rejected the light, just as some walked in it, as did Mary, the mother of God. Nations, rulers, men, and women choose to either see the splendor or to retreat into the darkness.

During Advent, we anticipated the parousia—the presence—of the King; the Feast of the Epiphany marks the fulfillment of that anticipation. The glory that slowly lit the Advent sky has now burst forth in the person of the Son. If Christmas is the celebration of God quietly invading the dark lands of humanity, Epiphany is the celebration, in part, of man recognizing the love and light of the invasion.

“The glory of God,” the Catechism teaches, “consists in the realization of this manifestation and communication of his goodness, for which the world was created” (par. 294). Man was made to share in God’s glory, and God’s glory is demonstrated in the salvation of man.

To God alone be glory. Soli Deo Gloria!

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the January 3, 2010, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)


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About Carl E. Olson 1170 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.

5 Comments

  1. Great title and article! Nota bene: In the Byzantine Tradition, Theophany is the commemoration of the revelation of the Most Holy Trinity. 😉

  2. Now Francis got it wrong [even Giotto as pictured got it wrong]. That’s the saint’s creche bunching magi with shepherds at the manger scene. Matthew the sole historicist of the event depicts the magi arriving post birth when the Holy Family roomed in town. Star of Bethlehem moving with them.
    Always enjoyable reading Olson’s Sunday essays. Magi. Myth or historical event? Read [past tense] Sandra Meisel’s as usual withering scrutiny [a good thing] and am focused on veracity. Ms Meisel leaves much open to criticism nevertheless allows for the event. “Fr. Brown’s exegesis [ my addition: thought back then among the cognoscenti the cats whiskers of biblical scholarship] concerning the infancy narratives of Saints Matthew and Luke that calls into question the virginal conception of Jesus and the accounts of our Lord’s birth and childhood” (Dave Armstrong in Patheos).
    +Bultmann demythologizing of course was a major concern Benedict XVI Jesus of Nazareth deconstructing the Bultmann construct restoring the spiritual content as the essential form of scripture. But did Matthew write a nice homey tale for appeal. Matthew the publican was meticulous by all Gospel accounts giving us the lengthy genealogy. Sources. Matthew had access to the Blessed Mother, the best first hand witness of events.
    +The rest is scriptural historicism, the new more authentic than the old yet leaving the question of embellishment. When the Evangelists wrote from varying sources, each gave a profile of Jesus perceived from four different perspectives that remarkably configure a singular person. Bottom line, however we interpret revelation of this most sacred event, as Olson alludes, we are faithfully convinced, To God alone be glory. Soli Deo Gloria!

  3. The decapsulation of this Myth, ‘all wise men play their part’ when searching for His light/Truth within the dark’

    Brightest of star in the darkest of night
    The Spirit of God revealing His light
    Innocence lay on a bed of hay
    Is this what his gentle eyes do say?
    All wise men play their part,
    When searching for His light within the dark
    Gold Frankincense and myrrh
    Within the righteous heart do stir
    Truth is love this must be understood
    No manmade decree
    It is the action of Truth that sets mankind free
    Deception and deceit are trod upon
    By His holy feet
    Humble of heart, placid moon, twinkling star
    All mankind shall know who you are
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

    • I’ll recall and read this again on Thursday. Wishing you and your family a 2022 filled with hope and fulfilment.

  4. Thank you, Patrick, for your heartfelt comment.
    May God bless you and your family also this coming year and always.
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

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