Sunday Homily – Epiphany

Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12


At Christmas time we give presents to particular people. Some people give gifts to us. What’s it all about? It all goes back to the story of the three wise men going to Bethlehem, falling on their knees, and offering the best gifts they could afford to the Baby King of the World.

Our gift-giving may sometimes be aimed more at keeping on-side and staying at peace than anything else. Our gift-giving may at times be part of the commercialization of Christmas instead of expressions of unconditional love. In contrast, the wise men are completely single-minded and sincere in their gift-giving. Their gifts are expressions of their respect, reverence, gratitude, and love for the child. Their gifts are given with no strings attached, no conditions, and no mixed motives.

The flaws in our gift-giving may make us feel that the whole business of exchanging Christmas gifts should be gradually abolished and that the commercialisation of Christmas should be restrained and restricted. If and when we think such thoughts, it may help to remember that the commercialisation of Christmas is somewhat necessary. Were it a completely spiritual celebration, hundreds of small businesses would go to the wall. Thousands of factory workers making bonbons, trees, chocolates, decorations, cards, and toys, would find themselves unemployed.

It may also be helpful to remember that if people did not spend money on gifts for family and friends at Christmas, their consciences would not be roused to make donations to the poor and needy at this time of giving and sharing. (Many charities experience a boost at Christmas time).

Despite the limits and flaws in our gift-giving, it is important both to keep the practice alive and to purify it of its worst excesses. It’s particularly important to the lives of children. The good news is that while they are attracted to receiving e.g., a gift of shiny new roller blades, they are also attracted to the Crib and the story of the baby lying there in the manger. Their hearts are touched by the plight of his parents who are so poor that they can offer him nothing but their protection and affection. Children very easily get the message that this is a story of love. They appreciate the humanity of the Holy Family, their struggles and their sacrifices, to bring to the human race the Light of the Nations.

The story of the visit to the Crib by the Wise Men is a story of giving and receiving. But it is not simply about the giving of things – in this case, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It speaks of how gifts express love between persons, and how gifts given with love bind people together.

In celebrating Epiphany, we are celebrating the greatest manifestation and gift that there has ever been, that of God’s love for us. For it was out of love, that God the Father gave us the Son, and gave him to be our Light, our Saviour, our King, and our Joy.

Jesus, then, is the celebrity we are celebrating at this time. He is the reason for the season, the Twelve Days of Christmas, that began on Christmas Eve. So, as a beautiful carol puts it: ‘JOY, JOY, FOR CHRIST IS BORN, THE BABE, THE SON OF MARY!’

As our Eucharist continues then, I suggest that we make a special point of giving thanks for the coming of Jesus Christ into our lives. May we acknowledge with sincerity that he is the most precious gift we have ever received! May we also in return renew the gift of our whole selves and our whole lives to God!

Brian Gleeson is a Passionist priest, and a member of the Passionist community in Endeavour Hills, Melbourne.