Tag Archives: Epiphany

Sunday Sermon: the Epiphany of the three Magi

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Any number of times over the years the inspiration for these “Sunday Sermon” pieces has been drawn from some idea put forward by the priests at my church.

Today, Father Sean English provided that inspiration with his sermon in which he spoke of the “Three Kings” in relation to today’s celebration of the Epiphany.

The Epiphany goes by a few other names as well, depending on your cultural background or the specific church to which you may belong. The most frequent are for “Little Christmas” or “Three Kings Day” celebrations.

In today’s world, when someone is said to have an “epiphany” it means that some sudden realization has come upon them. A moment of clarity in which something fundamental is revealed to them.

The “three kings” or “three wise men” or even the “Magi” as they have alternately been known through history are credited with both having and passing on such an epiphany following the birth of Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago.

The word “Magi” is an ancient one. It referred to those who practiced what was known as magic, usually including incorporation and study of alchemy and astrology. These were extremely learned men, bordering on what today would be called scientists more than true magicians.

As Father Sean explained today, the Magi of Jesus’ time were not necessarily aligned with any particular religion. However, they were acquainted with all faith systems, including Judaism.

The Magi may have been followers or even priests of Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions. No matter, they certainly would know of the ancient Jewish prophecy regarding the coming of a Savior.

The western Christian churches, including the Catholic Church founded by Jesus himself, believe and teach that there were three of these wise Magi men. That theory was drawn from writings showing that three gifts were brought: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

One thing is almost certain, they were not “kings” in the classic sense of the word. The reference to “three kings” is almost certainly drawn from prophecies such as Psalm 72 which said “all kings shall fall down before him” in the Jewish Torah, or Old Testament.

The three were said to have come “from the east”, drawn by a star in the sky which their calculations led them to believe would lead to the Savior foretold in the Jewish prophetic writings.

In the western tradition, they went by the names Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, and hailed originally from Persia, India, and Babylonia respectively. Some claim that they actually are meant to represent Europe, Asia, and Africa.

As the Magi neared the end of their long journey, possibly from a home base in the Parthian Empire, the three received word that King Herod, the ruler of Judea, wished an audience with them.

At this meeting, Herod asked that when the Magi found this newborn future “King of the Jews”, that they return and let him know the location of the child. Herod alleged that this was so that he too could go and worship the child. However, his later actions revealed that Herod was actually plotting to kill the child, thus defeating the prophecy and a snuff out a future threat to his rule.

The traditional date of the Epiphany within Christianity is January 6th. However, the Catholic Church celebrates on the Sunday falling between the 2nd and 8th. It is celebrated on other dates by other Christian churches.

When you sing or hear the Christmas song “The Twelve Days of Christmas“, January 6th is that 12th day – exactly twelve days having passed since December 25th, Christmas Day.

The traditions and teachings hold that the Magi followed the star until it came to rest over the little town of Bethlehem in Judea. There, inside of what was essentially a cave-like shelter, lying in a manger, the Magi found the child.

Surrounded by the child’s parents, Mary and Joseph, as well as shepherds who had been visiting since the child’s birth, the wise men presented their gifts.

As pointed out in an article at The Telegraph, the gifts which the three Magi bore were each presented for a specific reason:

The gifts were symbolic of the importance of Jesus’ birth, the gold representing his royal standing; frankincense his divine birth; and myrrh his mortality.

The realization, the moment of clarity, the “epiphany” experienced by the Magi had come with the revelation that this child, this Jesus born in such humble circumstances, was indeed the Savior of prophecy. And this Savior came not only to and for the Jewish people, but all people.

When they had completed their visit, the Magi decided not to return to their homeland by the same route which they had arrived. This would take them past Herod, whose true intentions had been revealed to them. And so they returned to their homes a different way.

It is important that we not only accept Jesus as our personal Savior, but that we do our best to practice that faith and pass it along to our families and other loved ones.

Even should they decide not to follow our example, it remains important to continue demonstrating our faith. At some point, we changed. We accepted Christ into our lives. Our continuing example could prove to be the very thing that opens the eyes, minds, and hearts of others.

This leads us to a final important point that Father Sean made in his sermon. Each of us, having had the truth of Jesus Christ revealed to us, should return to our lives in a different way than we traveled prior to that moment. That pivotal revelation marked our individual, personal epiphany.

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Twelve Days of Christmas

The ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ is actually that time between Christmas Day and the Epiphany, the period after the holiday itself.

So this is more appropriately your warning of the ‘Twelve Days ‘Til Christmas’.

This is your fair warning folks. Beginning tomorrow there will be just twelve more days until Christmas.

If you haven’t yet decorated, put up your tree, done some shopping, mailed out those cards and gifts then now is the time.

There is not much more to this posting other than its functioning as that warning to you. Also the fact that today has been real busy for me, so I don’t have much more time to devote.

It’s Friday, so TGIF and get up, out, and get things done this weekend. The time to procrastinate is over. It is the time of doing. It will be fun.

All the stores and malls and shops, and many streets and homes, are fully decorated, playing Christmas music, crowds hectically maneuvering around one another.

Don’t think of it as work, Santa. It is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. So get out and enjoy yourself this weekend, but make productive use of your time. Merry Christmas to all.

Goodbye again to ‘Ordinary Time’

The Church has divided her year into periods of time, and the most common of those is about to call it quits once again. ‘Ordinary Time’ occurs in 33-34 weeks each year, and will make its final appearance next Sunday, November 23rd.

Ordinary Time occurs just after Christmas season, and then again just after Easter. It covers a large period at the end of winter, through the entirety of spring and summer, and into mid-fall. It is the entirety of the year outside of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter.

The name of Ordinary Time does not denote that there is something less special, or in other words the common meaning that we give to the word ‘ordinary’. Instead it draws its name from the word ‘ordinal’, which means ‘numbered’, because the Sundays that make up Ordinary Time are indeed numbered.

During this time all the days, but especially the Sundays, are devoted to the mystery of Jesus Christ in every aspect of His existence. The first Ordinary period of a calendar year begins after Mass is said on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which falls the Sunday after the Epiphany. Thus the Mass on that day is said to be in Christmastide, but the Evening Prayers would fall in Ordinary Time.

This first period will then last until what has become commonly known as ‘Fat Tuesday’, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. At that point, Lent begins, and Ordinary Time will not return until Pentecost. When this second Ordinary period begins, it will then run right up until Advent.

During these Ordinary Time periods, the Church may indeed emphasize those ordinary aspects of Christ’s life. The teachings and verses of Scripture that cover his interactions with his family and friends, his day-to-day life and teachings, those things that occurred outside of his birth, death, and resurrection.

Prior to the Second Vatican Council closing in 1965, the Church called these periods of the year ‘Season after Epiphany’ and ‘Season after Pentecost’, and there remain some Anglicans and other groups who still recognize these older terms. But in the broader Church, a new Catholic Calendar was issued beginning in 1969, and the Ordinary Time designations have been used ever since.

So next Sunday you can go to Church and say goodbye to Ordinary Time. In so doing, you will also be anticipating one of the most joyful times of the year, what has become known even in the secular world as ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. The following week, the first Sunday of Advent is observed, and we begin the run-up to the greatest event in the history of mankind, the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

NOTE: This is another in the ‘Sunday Sermon’ series which comes each Sunday. Simply click on that below Label to visit all of the previous entries in the Series.