Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. This is the feast of the revelation of God’s mystery to the nations. How this works in salvation history is worth meditating on, and the readings give us a few pointers on what to look for in our own lives.
I want to highlight two sentences from our readings. The first sentence is from our first reading, and one translation of it is: “at this sight you will grow radiant.” The second sentence I want to highlight is from our second reading. St Paul writes: “I have been entrusted by God with the grace he meant for you.” What do these two sentences have to tell us about the feast of the Epiphany.
The first thing they tell us is something that we see over and over again in the scriptures and in the life of the Church. The mysteries of Christ are eternal. They are always new. And they perpetuate themselves. What do I mean by this? Well, listen to those two sentences again. “At this sight you will grow radiant”, and “I have been entrusted by God with the grace he meant for you.”
The mystery of the Epiphany is the revelation of God through Israel to the nations. It is the holiness of Israel, the closeness of God to his chosen people, revealed in their fidelity to the Law of the Lord, that is spoken of throughout the Old Testament as the trustworthy sign that Israel’s God, the Lord, is God alone. The revelation of God to Israel, the choosing of Israel by God, is the way God gives himself to the whole world.
In revealing himself to Israel, God’s light, the vision of God, makes Israel radiant. Radiant to whom? Not to itself. Radiant to the nations. God’s light enlightens Israel, and so Israel begins to shine out. The revelation to Israel then is the revelation to the world. When God reveals himself to Israel, Israel somehow becomes part of the revelation. We hear this when our Lady proclaims in the Magnificat: my soul magnifies the Lord.
We hear the same thing in St Paul but perhaps in more explicitly theological terms. He says, the grace I have received is for you. Whatever I received, I received for you. God gives a grace, a revelation to Paul, but not for Paul, but for those he is sent to. St Paul receives in order to give. He is sent and that is how he becomes part of the Body of Christ. His life then is to be pure relation, between God and neighbour. This is his vocation to become transparent for God’s gift. And in becoming transparent he will become radiant with God’s glory.
This is another example of the cliché: the meaning of your life is that it is not about you. We all know this cliché in another way: Life is love of God and love of neighbour. The epiphany is another great example of our need to become transparent for this mystery. We need to become clear windows between God and our neighbours. We participate in the mystery of the epiphany precisely when we forget about ourselves, when we spend ourselves in love of God and love of neighbour. And it is precisely in forgetting ourselves, that we shine the brightest.
You can easily imagine this in the persons of the three kings. They are immediately convincing. They convince the whole of Jerusalem. Their deep belief that the king of the Jews has been born, their singular focus on embarking on such a trek in order to meet him: all these things shine from their faces. They are not thinking of themselves; they are focused on what they seek, on him who they seek. And so they become transparent for the mystery they long for. In their eager and open-hearted search, in their transparent desire, to everybody else they seem part of the mystery already.
Perhaps we can reflect on that this week. How focussed am I on Christ? How focussed am I on my neighbour, especially the poor and in need? Is there a sense of urgency? Is there a sense of certainty? Is there a sense of joy?
This might be too hard to ask of ourselves. Such navel-gazing which might undermine this sense of forgetting myself. Perhaps the better reflection this week is: who in my life has been an epiphany of love of God and love of neighbour? Who has revealed to me the mystery of God’s will in my life? And how did they do this? We must do this this, because as St Paul tells us, through these people, this gift is meant for us. And through us, this gift is meant for other people.
And so let’s thank God for these people. Let’s also pray that we like St Paul might receive all these graces God wants to give us, not for us, but for our brothers and sisters, who desperately need God’s light in their lives.