What’s in a Word? – Rudolf Horst, SVD

Matthew 2:1-12, Solemnity of the Epiphany

Please, don’t expect that I will discuss here who the wise men were, where they came from, what their names were – all that is not in the text of the gospel. Rather, I would like to reflect for a moment about the main word of today’s Solemnity: Epiphany.

What’s in a word? Quite a lot, actually.

We’re still in the Christmas season, which means we’re still celebrating that God became man. We can never celebrate this enough, rejoicing over the presence of God in Jesus Christ. Rejoicing that we are not alone in this often scary world.

“Epiphany” means an “appearance” or “manifestation”, especially of the divine.

We see both of those meanings in the gospel today. First of all, Jesus is revealed to the wise men. They represent the non-Jewish world, which was also longing for a savior.

As Pope Benedict put it in his book Jesus of Nazareth, they were “people of inner unrest, people of hope, people seeking the star of salvation.” They were not content with a dull, apathetic life. They wanted to see God. And they find God. To their great joy, they see the Epiphany, the manifestation, of God. They fulfilled their quest.”

But there is the other meaning of the word “Epiphany”: a sudden and striking discovery. The wise men see God. Yet was this how they expected to see him?

If you were God, how would you appear on earth? Perhaps in power and blazing light and overwhelming glory? And here the wise men find a crying baby. God, all-powerful, the creator of heaven and earth, chooses to come in weakness! That was, indeed, an Epiphany, a striking discovery.

This leads us to the profound truth that God’s glory is a hidden glory. When the angels appeared to the shepherds to tell them about the birth of the Savior, they sang: “Glory to God in the highest.” Now the wise men see that glory, they have their epiphany, realizing that the true epiphany is that God’s glory is a hidden glory. This is the sudden and striking discovery.

God has many epiphanies for us too. He will show us his glory, but most of the time it will be hidden.

A good example and illustration of God’s hidden glory we find in the First Book of Kings.

The prophet Elijah had a rough time lately. He is constantly denouncing Queen Jezebel for her idol worship. And she is determined to kill him for it. And so Elijah flees into the wilderness, and asks God to let him die. He was pretty depressed. But God feeds him and sends him to Mount Horeb where he has an epiphany planned for Elijah.

But it’s not the sort of epiphany Elijah expected. Remember, God’s glory is a hidden glory.

First of all a strong wind sweeps the mountain and shatters the rocks. You would think that God would be in the wind. But he’s not. Then an earthquake comes and shakes the ground. You would expect God to appear in the earthquake, but he doesn’t. Next a fire engulfs the mountainside and sends sparks to the sky. You would say “God must be in this fire,” but he’s not there. Finally a gentle breeze comes to Elijah. And he knows that this, at last, is the Lord. He knows that this is the Epiphany he has been waiting for. He understands that God’s glory is a hidden glory.

What has this to do with us?

The holiday season, with its joys and its stress, is ending. For the lay people it’s back to work, for students back to school. Again everyday life engulfs people with its own challenges, so much so that many sometimes ask: Where is God in all this?

In his book Abandonment to Divine Providence, Jean-Pierre de Caussade writes: “The awareness that God is present and active in everything that happens at every moment, is the deepest knowledge we can have in this life of the things of God.” (Repeat.)

So every moment is a sort of sacrament, a visible sign of invisible grace. God is not somewhere out there. He’s present now, in the circumstances of everyday life.

If we want to discover him and see his Epiphany, of course, we need to pay attention. Remember, God’s glory is a hidden glory. The problem is: Do I take the time to discover this hidden glory in my life?

Do I take time during the day to stop and reflect on what God is doing in my life? Yes, you will answer. We have our common prayers, our Masses…. But how often have these common prayers and even Masses become a routine, part of the daily community schedule?

Last Friday, January 6, was actually the Feast of Epiphany which Pope Francis celebrated with a solemn Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. He spoke in his homily about the longing of the Magi for God and then he said:

“Longing for God shatters our dreary routines and impels us to make the changes we want and need.”

If we are able to overcome our routine in spiritual life through a fervent longing for Christ, when we make ourselves conscious that the moment we enter the Chapel, we are in the presence of God, in the presence of his hidden glory, then we start to become more aware that God is present and active in everything that happens at every moment.

We start to recognize Christ’s continuing epiphany in even the smallest events of our lives. We start to recognize Christ manifesting himself to us in those around us, and in our relationships with them.

Right now, during this Mass we are slowing down and allowing Christ to speak to us. Let’s listen to him. Let’s ask Christ to give us the gift to see his hidden glory in each moment of our lives, and to respond, like the wise men, by giving him what we have and what we are.

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