The Epiphany of the Lord

First Reading Isaiah 60:1-6
Second Reading Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6
Gospel Matthew 2:1-12

Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.

When you were little, maybe you had an Aunt Wilhemina. That may not have been her name: she may have been Aunt Josephine, or Aunt Gertrude or Aunt Mary Catherine. If her name was different, her Christmas gifts to you were very much the same each year. Out of sincere love, Aunt Wilhemina offers to every niece and nephew a Christmas present of green and purple crocheted mittens. Upon opening this present, the average youngster doesn’t find the words “thank you” coming immediately to mind. But hopefully in addition to a loving aunt, the child also has parents who instill in her or him the need to say “thank you.”

There’s hardly a better way to spend the days of Christmas than to offer thank you’s. Of course, when we as Christians speak about the “days of Christmas”, we’re not talking about the days that stretch between Thanksgiving and December 25th. The days of Christmas only begin on December 25, and continue through the celebration of five mysteries of our Catholic Faith. All five mysteries help us to offer thank you’s more readily and sacrificially, truly from the heart. We offer up thank you’s not just for gifts in boxes and bows, but more importantly, for the gifts of human life and the opportunity to share in divine life.

As we celebrate the Epiphany, we see three wise men arriving at the manger scene. They were men willing to sacrifice of themselves in order to find a newborn King. This is a sign of their wisdom: their willingness to sacrifice.

Their sacrifices reflect not only their own wisdom. Their sacrifices also reflect the wisdom of the One they were seeking. In other words, they were willing to sacrifice so greatly because they believed in the greatness of the One they were seeking.

Each of the wise men was willing to leave the realm where he was king—where everyone bowed down before him—in order to find the King of Kings before whom he could kneel in homage. Each of the wise men was willing to give up his riches in order to find an even greater treasure.

There are many people who believe they’re rich, but who actually have become satisfied with riches that—in the end—are not going to do them any real good. This usually happens because people don’t recognize that inside the human soul, the desire for sacrifice is greater than the desire for the riches of the world.

Look at these three wise kings. Look at their sacrifices. There are at least two sacrifices that each king makes.

The first sacrifice is the journey that each makes. He leaves behind the land where he rules and where he is in control, in order to bow down before the Ruler of Heaven and Earth.

The second sacrifice is what each sacrifices from his treasury, to place before the new-born King. But these gifts are given as a response to a greater Gift.

Jesus is the greater Gift. The wise man knows that the whole world, and every land, and every person in every land, will receive from Jesus an infinite blessing, if accepted. The gifts of the wise men are only responses to God’s goodness. God’s goodness—that is, His love—is primary. Always. Our response is only and always secondary, both in sequence and in the measure of its goodness.

In God the Father giving us the Gift of His Son, the Father calls us to give a gift in response. But we might understandably worry, asking, “What can measure up to God’s gift? God’s gift is infinite. I cannot give an infinite gift.”

This is true. We can only give our “all” to God. In this way, at least, we can give as God gives: as the old saying goes, not equal gifts, but equal sacrifice. If we give as God gives—by giving Him our “all”—we tap into what is best in us: the desire to give, not to get; to take joy in showering others with good things, not to accumulate them for oneself; to take interest in the growth of one’s soul, not to watch the growth of one’s accounts with interest; to sacrifice our time and pride by saying “thank you” rather than looking for the applause of the world.