The Feast of the Epiphany. (January 8, 2023)
Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, which is also called Little Christmas, and for many in the Oriental Churches today is the real Christmas. The Bible says that Jesus was born in a poor stable in Bethlehem, because there was no room for him to be born at the Inn. Aside from his parents the only witnesses to his birth were a number of animals that were common to the Middle East, probably sheep, goats, horses, camels, or cows.
Jesus certainly received visitors when he was born. The Bible says that a number of poor shepherds came to see him, and they probably came bearing gifts. Shepherds ranked among the poorer sections of the society of that time, and so perhaps their gifts consisted of little lambs or something else that was inexpensive.
However, the Bible also says that some rich people, three wealthy men, came to see Jesus. They were kings from the East and they came with gifts befitting their status, namely gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Both frankincense and myrrh are substances obtained from trees. They were used as medicines and perfumes, and they were very expensive in those early days. This story of the three kings is something we have heard of ever since our childhood, and on the feast of the Epiphany that we celebrate today we honor the visit of these kings. The feast of the Epiphany is sometimes called Little Christmas. Originally it was celebrated on January 6, but now it is celebrated on January 8. The 12 days between December 25 and January 6 have become very popular due to a well-known Christmas song.
However when we analyze the situation, we see that Christmas is a story not of three kings, but two. There are two kings who play a major role in this Christmas event. One is our Lord Jesus Christ the King of Heaven, and the other is Herod the great, the king of Judea. Herod was called ‘great’ because he erected numerous temples, forts, and other structures. However, historians assert that he was a megalomaniac and that he was also paranoid, and that he put to death several people including members of his own family, since he suspected them of plotting against him.
St. Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus, the saint after whom this church is named, wrote a very famous book on spirituality entitled The Spiritual Exercises. This book contains directions for people who wish to do a spiritual retreat either for 8 days or 30 days. It was through these Spiritual Exercises that Ignatius was able to convert and recruit many eminent Jesuits, like St. Francis Xavier.
The Book contains some meditations, and one of these mediations is called the meditation on the Two Standards. What Ignatius says here is that we have two people before us, calling us to follow them. One is Jesus, and the other is Satan. Satan offers his followers power, glory, material riches, and all the good things of life, but there is no guarantee of happiness either in this world or in the next, and no eternal life. Christ on the other hand does not offer us anything as flamboyant as Satan. He offers us love, peace, support in times of trouble, and consolation, but most of all he offers us eternal life. The two of them, that is Christ and Satan, stand before us, and we have to decide who among the two we choose to follow. The way of Christ is the way to eternal happiness, but the way of Satan is the way to depression, disappointments, and doom.
Herod was a man who chose the way of Satan. He was a man who hated Christmas, and he was deceived by the glory, power, and superficial joy he saw in Satan. Historians says he died a very unhappy man, and the Jewish historian Josephus states that he was so concerned that no one would weep over his death, that he arrested a large group of distinguished people and gave orders that they should be killed at the time of his death, in order that somebody might weep. Luckily however his son Archelaus and sister Salome did not carry out this command.
Every human being has Jesus living within him, but sad to say Satan also lives within every human being. We therefore are drawn in two ways. On the one side we are drawn by the infinite love of Christ, and on the other we are enticed by the deceptions of Satan, and so we need to decide who among the two we choose to follow. If a neighbor who has ill-treated you in the past suddenly comes up to you and begs for your help, what would you choose to do? I guess the answer to this question would depend upon whether you have chosen Satan or Christ.
A book that exerted a great influence on the world was The Diary of Anne Frank. Anne was a Jewish girl, and she was only 15 years old when she died. During the Second World War she and her family hid for 2 years in the Netherlands, to avoid persecution by the Nazis. Eventually however they were discovered, sent to the concentration camps, and killed, and at the end of the war her father was the only family member who returned alive. Her diary contains the following thought-provoking words:
“I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness; I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”
On this feast of the Epiphany let us pray that the confidence and love of this 15-year-old girl pervade the hearts of all mankind.
By Cyril Veliath SJ