Epiphany means manifestation (revelation). This manifestation of God to men is an extraordinary mystery, a work so full of mercy; it constitutes one of the characters so essential to the Incarnation that, in the first centuries, the Church had no special feast in honor of our Savior's Birth at Bethlehem. The Church instead celebrated the feast of the "Theophania," the feast of the "Divine Manifestations" in the Person of the Incarnate Word. These manifestations included:
In passing from the Church of the East to that of the West, the feast has retained its name in Greek (i.e. Epiphany), but it has almost exclusively emphasizes the manifestation of the Savior to the Gentile world in the person of the Magi.
The Fathers of the Church have seen in the call of the Magi to Christ's cradle, the calling of pagan nations to the Faith. The Incarnate Word is first of all manifested to the Jews in the person of the shepherds. Why is this? Because the Jewish people were the Chosen People. From this people was to come forth the Messiah, the Son of David. The magnificent promises to be realized in the establishing of the Messianic Kingdom had been made to this people; it was to them that God had entrusted the Scriptures and given the Law whereof each element prefigured the grace that was to be brought by Christ. It was then befitting that the Incarnate Word should first be manifested to the Jews. The shepherds, simple and upright men, represented the Chosen People at the Crib. Later on in His public life, Our Lord would again manifest Himself to the Jews by the wisdom of His teachings and the splendor of His miracles.
The Magi at Bethlehem represented the Gentiles in their calling to the light of the Gospel. The way in which the Magi acted shows us the qualities that our faith ought to have. What is at first apparent is the generous fidelity of this faith. Let us consider it. The Star of Bethlehem appeared to the Magi. From whatever country they originated - Persia, Chaldea, Arabia or India - the Magi, according to tradition, belonged to a priestly caste and devoted themselves to the study of the stars. It is more than probable that they were not ignorant of the revelation made to the Jews of a King Who would be their Deliverer and the Master of the world. Suddenly, a wondrous star appears to them. Its extraordinary brightness attracting their gaze, awakens their attention at the same time that a inward grace of illumination enlightens their souls. This grace prepared them to recognize the prerogatives of the One Whose Birth the star announced; it inspired them to set out to seek Him in order to offer Him their homage.
The Magi's fidelity to the inspiration of grace is wonderful. Doubt takes no hold upon their minds; without staying to reason, they immediately begin to carry out their design. Neither the indifference nor the skepticism of those who surround them, nor the disappearance of the star, nor the difficulties inherent to an expedition of this kind, nor the length and dangers of the way stop them. They obey the divine call without delay or hesitation. "We have seen His star in the East and are come" (Mt 2:2).
If with fidelity we listen to the divine call, if we generously press onward with our gaze fixed upon the star, we shall come to Christ Who is the life of our souls. And whatever be our sins, our failings, our miseries, Jesus will welcome us with kindness. He has promised to do so: "All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me, and him that cometh to Me, I will not cast out".
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