The word Epiphany means manifestation or appearance. This word gives us a valuable insight into the nature of this feast, the mystery that we celebrate. While we usually think about the Magi, Epiphany is about the appearance of Christ. The Church has historically pointed to three different events and pondered each of them during this celebration: the appearance of the magi but also the wedding feast at Cana and the baptism of the Lord. All three of these events manifest the mystery of Christ.
Also, each of these events led to faith and belief. The manifestation of Christ leads to a relationship with God. Sight leads to belief. But what was seen at each of these encounters?
First, the magi followed the star. However, when it stops over the place where Jesus was what do we hear? "On entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage." What they saw was the child with his mother, yet they were moved to give worship to the child. There is something more than simple sight here.
In the wedding feast at Cana we hear that Jesus turns water into wine as his first sign. At the end of the passage we hear "Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him." What they saw was water becoming wine, yet it led to their faith. Again there is something more than simple sight here.
At the baptism of the Lord, which will have its own feast next Sunday, Jesus goes into the water. When he comes up from the water we hear "the heavens were opened (for him), and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (and) coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."" What was seen was a dove in the skies; but, again, there is something more than simple sight going on here.
In each of the stories something is seen; yet, in each of the stories something more than what can simple be seen is perceived. The magi see a child, but it is the son of God. The disciples see wine, but it is proof of the power of Christ. Jesus sees a dove, but this is the Holy Spirit. In each case something is seen, but something more is seen as well. One interesting way to pray with these gospels is to ask ourselves what we would have seen. If we had been with the magi, if we were with the disciples, if we were on the shores of the Jordan, what would we have seen? Would we have been limited by our simple human sight or would these events have inspired faith? Could we have seen through these appearances and recognize them for what they are, epiphanies of God, appearances of the Divine? To be able to recognize the presence of God in the midst of what looks mundane and ordinary is a critical skill that we must develop.
What is a good word for this skill? How about behold? This is one of St. Matthew's favorite words. He uses it 29 times in the gospel, including twice in today's reading. Behold the Magi came from the east, and behold the star preceded them. This word seems to be one of the favorites of the gospels to speak about seeing: they beheld that star; but, also that deeper seeing: they saw the child and did him homage. We continue to need this kind of seeing today. God continues to reveal himself in our lives. There are many times when we can behold his presence among us, especially here at Mass.
Many of you know that we will be implementing a new translation of the Roman Missal in November. Many of the phrases we have been using will be changed to reflect more accurately the original Latin text. One such prayer is the Ecce Agnus Dei. You know that right before we receive communion there is a little prayer: This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The actual Latin word used here is Ecce, which is properly translated behold, and is the same word used to translate the word St. Matthew used 29 times in the gospel. So, starting in November, what you will hear is Behold the Lamb of God. When we see the Eucharist what we see looks like bread and wine, but to those who can behold the deeper truth, it is the Body and Blood of Christ. Today we celebrate the epiphany of God, the manifestation of Jesus Christ, but every Mass is truly an epiphany, a manifestation of the Divine for those who have eyes to see it. When we participate in this Holy Eucharist become like the magi, we behold the Lamb of God and we give him homage.