Friday, January 06, 2006

Happy Epiphany!

from a Psalter illustration at Wurzburg, 1240 A.D.

O God, Who, by means of a star didst this day manifest to the Gentiles Thine only-begotten Son; grant that we who know Thee now by faith, may be brought at last to contemplate the beauty of Thy Majesty. Through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

With the first twinkling of the great star in the East, God broke forth from the narrow confines of Judea and burst into the hearts of the Gentiles. Although He had always opened His covenant to more than one ethnic group, for too long the light of the burning bush had been obscured under the bushel of a people grown dead to the things of the spirit through self-indulgence. However, His love could not be shut up within artificial boundaries -- indeed, within any boundardies, the very reason He created Adam, the common father of all the nations He calls to Himself today. On Epiphany, He would utter the words prophesied by Isaiah long before: "This place is too narrow for me: give place to me that I may dwell" (Isa. 49:20). On this day, He would stretch forth the heavenly light itself to lead the beginning of a new people to their Head, the second Adam, Who "didst wonderfully dignify" human nature "and didst still more wonderfully restore it."

However, the Wise Men were uniquely equipped to respond to the light. According to such Western Fathers as the Venerable Bede, they had pondered the ancient prophecies of a coming king in Judea (Num. 24:17; see also Byz. Christmas Matins). Like Abraham before them, they were unafraid to venture far from their homelands, following a divine pledge that was at once shining yet uncomfortably opaque. They rejected the evil counsels of wicked leaders to offer their gifts of devotion to the Holy Child. And they returned another way, because no one who genuinely adores Christ remains the same, inwardly or outwardly. By doing this, the Gentile kings showed themselves the true kinsmen of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

We are their kinsmen only to the extent that we show the same characteristics. Pope St. Gregory the Great stated that God had renewed human nature by His Incarnation, yet we only participate in this renewal through baptism. And after sin, we again debase our nature, which is why we must again renew it in a holy stream -- of our tears. We who have been led by the kindly light to Bethlehem must pray "that we show forth Thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to Thy service, and by walking before Thee in holiness and righteousness all our days." Then by purifying our consciences, our heartfelt praise shines forth as brightly as the beckoning light of the Epiphany star.

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