My Homily Given Today on the Feast of the Epiphany
AMDG I am going to let you into a secret – one of the things I like about being a priest at Christmas is that I don’t have to buy a lot of presents. It’s not that I am means spirited – or stingy …….. honestly …….. but I am very happy that being a priest it allows me to concentrate on what is really important at Christmas. But even I can’t get totally out of it – I went over to see my sister in Nottingham last week and two of my beautiful nieces, Charlotte and Emily. Now they are only 4 and 6 so I don’t think they would understand if I turned up without presents – so briefly I had to join the crowds in the Arndale Centre – looking for presents – and it was stressful! Too many people – some very rude people pushing you out the way – and all just to get a couple of presents (they both love Barbie and Moshi Monsters) that I know were made in China – and probably will be forgotten about in a few week and thrown out when my sister decides there are too many toys cluttering up their bedroom.
Does that sound familiar to you?
Let’s contrast that experience with the presents given to Jesus by the wise men at the feast of the Epiphany. Gold, Frankincense and Myrhh – Gold – which represents the Kingship of Christ. Isn’t it interesting that when there is a period of political or financial instability the price of Gold soars. People buy Gold when they don’t trust their rulers or their economy – just look at what is happening in India now with such a frustration with corruption. Gold has a value that lasts – its not another throwaway consumerist trinket. In this baby in Bethlehem we see that if you invest your hopes and your dreams in his kingship it will bear dividends – not of more money but of peace, of joy, of love. Frankincense – the gift of priesthood – like the incense that we use at mass to consecrate the altar, which I have just you to consecrate this book of the Gospels. In this child born into poverty we have what Saint Paul was the ultimate high priest – whose sacrifice on our behalf brings us back into the loving orbit of God our creator. And in Myrhh – we have an analgesic – a pain killer – something that we still use in dentistry and when we gargle mouthwash. This a prophetic gift which indicates the wise man forsee the suffering that this new king-priest will have to endure suffering to fulfill his Messiahship.
Lets compare the vision of the three kings to the that of King Herod. Herod is the consummate political survivor – even being prepared to kill his own children to maintain his own power. He is ruthless and will do anything to consolidate his power. That is the extent of his vision – raw power – and anyone or anything that gets in his way will be ruthlessly eliminated. If you read the historians of this time he was notorious for executing three of his own sons – Caesar Augustus even commented ‘It is better to be Herod’s dog rather than one of his sons’ What type of man is that?
We think that the magi came from Persia (Iran), India and Arabia and their exotic caravan would certainly have been noticed even in a bustling Jerusalem, So Herod assembles his own wise man and discovers the prophecy of the messiah. The Magi were looking for truth – seeking the star – and their gifts show how deeply they understood the prophecy. The best gifts we receive come from people who understand us. Herod – in his ego and his paranoia is seeking for threats to his power and as we will see is ruthless in his reaction.
We all know that we can be like Herod in our lives and relationships – bearing grudges, playing games, manipulating people. Ok we may not resort to murder or even physical violence – but so many of us like another form of assassination – gossiping, undermining someone’s reputation. We become so obsessed with maintaining our own comfort that we stop seeking the truth. If you are seeking the truth, if you are seeking Christ, than expect opposition from the Herods of this world. Expect to be scorned, to be laughed at. But keep seeking – look for the gifts of the spirit – look for the gifts that will never grow stale – or be thrown away. Truth, Freedom (and real freedom is spiritual – it is detachment), Peace and Joy. They are gifts that come from kneeling and adoring – they are gifts that come from following those things that produce wonder in your heart. You won’t find that Peace and Joy in the Arndale Centre – you may find it at the Holy Name.