Today marks the great Feast of the Epiphany; that “first harvest of the Gentiles” in the persons of the Magi from “the East.”
Perhaps no other characters in the Gospel are as much the subject of legend as these unnamed (and un-enumerated) men. It is worth noting that while Saint Luke’s Gospel gives us the majority of what we can call “The Christmas Story,” it is our Patron, Saint Matthew, who in his Gospel tells us of the visit of the “wise men from the East.”
Though legend has grown around them, which may well, like many legends, contain truth; the fact of the existence of these men is beyond doubt. We know from other sources of ancient history of the existence of men learned in astronomy and the mystical knowledge of their time and place (modern day Iran by most accounts). We also know from other sources (the Roman poet Virgil) that there was about this time a sense of something impending of great significance in the Gentile world (the words of one of his poems that described a young woman smiling down upon her infant boy with whom this iron age will pass away come to mind).
Tradition has given them names (Balthasar, Melchior, Gaspar); made them Kings; deduced their number as three from the number of their richly symbolic gifts; made them representatives of the three main races of Man; and even provided their final resting place: along the banks of the Rhine River in Germany in the great cathedral of Cologne.
While all of the above is more or less speculation, who is to say that memory does not preserve some truths about these men whom Saint Matthew preserves for us?
Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI visited their shrine at Cologne Cathedral during the celebrations of World Youth Day some years ago and preached on them as worthy images for the “wayfarers and journeyers’ of all lands who converged on that city.
Whoever and whatever they were, they are the first manifestation (the meaning of the Greek word epiphania) of the Light of the World reaching the outer world. In a sense, we might view today’s ancient feast (so beloved among the Eastern Christians both Catholic and Orthodox) as the Little Christmas that marks the first of a long line of Gentile believers of whom we are the fruit.
Even from His cradle the Lord was preaching to the nations, and we are the result of that great call taken up by countless missionaries in every age.
As the Liturgy today puts it: This day, Christ has appeared to us! Come, let us adore Him!
Speaking of gifts as well; let me express my deep personal thanks to so many of you who showed such generosity in your real and symbolic gifts to the Parish, and to me personally, as well as to Father Benet, Father Joseph and our Deacon Carmine.
I was touched by the many kind expressions of regard and affection in so many Christmas cards and greetings these past two weeks.