Matthew 2:1-12; Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord
Celebrating the Christmas season has become synonymous with gifts and gift-giving. When this season is fast approaching and as it unfolds, we all get caught up in a frenzy of thinking what to give to whom and what we will receive from whom! Gift-giving has become a giant industry with some many permutations from pre-packed gifts of all sorts to carefully picked-out made-to-order items for the most special persons. The limit is set only by one’s creativity and of course, one’s pocket.
The reasons for this avalanche of gifts can be as banal as thanking people for the good business they have given us during the year or as meaningful and significant as celebrating and recognizing our relationship with the special people in our lives. The kind of gift given in a way measures or signifies the kind of relationship that os celebrated. When a man courts a lady, a bunch of flowers is different from three red roses and certainly a box of chocolates is totally not equal to a little red box with a diamond ring inside. But you get the picture – you don give a company giveaway like a paperweight as a present to a loved one. In a certain way, the commercial value of the gift has become a measure of how much we value a particular relationship.
Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of our Lord! Epiphany is becoming a very quaint word, one that we use less and less in our daily lives. We would be comfortable with words like revelation, manifestation, or even disclosure. This epiphany or manifestation which we celebrate today is not just some kind of “a-ha!” or eureka moment. It is the biggest “a-ha!” or eureka in our lives because it is God himself who reveals; it is the mystery of mysteries that is unveiled in our lives; it is the only singular and most precious gift we will ever receive in our entire existence. The value of God’s gift of himself to all of humanity is incalculable. In the first reading, Isaiah approximates the value of this gift in this beautiful line: “Rise in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you, the Lord shines, and over you, appears his glory.”
The difficulty of gifts and gift-giving is the amalgamation of the intangible with the tangible. How does some solid, material object given to a person express the feelings of the giver? The eternal fear of the guy who proposes to a lady is “is this stone big enough to express how much I love her?” or “will she think I love her less if I can only give her a synthetic diamond ring?”
This is where God will outdo all of our gift-giving predicaments. He knows the physicality of our nature as human beings, thus he manifests himself, he gives himself to us as HUMAN, in a form we can see, touch, hear and relate with. God has solved the gift-giving conundrum for all eternity by giving the one gift that tops all other gifts – the gift of self. In the Gospel, the Magi are led by the star to this child held by his mother. They prostrated themselves before him and paid homage. But they felt, at that moment, that bowing to this great manifestation was not enough so they dug into their treasure chests and presented him their most valuable items of god, frankincense and myrrh. These objects have their esteemed value and they represent how the Magi felt about the child before them. But we know that the objects can only say so much and the most important thing is left unsaid. The best they could do was protect the child from Herod by not leading the despot to where Jesus was.
Our gift-giving is an attempt to value our relationship with others. In such an attempt, we bare ourselves, we give of ourselves to those to whom we gift ourselves. And when we receive gifts, we do not only receive only the material essence laid before us but the spirit of the one who has given.
My dear friends, on this Solemnity of the Epiphany, the Lord gives of himself to us; let us receive this most precious gift and treasure him above all else.
*image from the Internet