YEAR C: HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD
HOMILY THEME: “On entering the house, the wise men saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11)
BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
HOMILY: Matthew 2:1-12
Some years back, when the man we’ll call Father Gilligan was a young priest, he happened to be shopping just after Christmas in a religious goods store for some necessary church supplies. While he’d not intended to buy any more than was already on his shopping list, the salesperson tempted the young priest to have a look at the after-Christmas stock of discounted merchandise lavishly displayed on a table near the front door.
Thinking only to appease her, he lingered for a moment at the table, pretending to admire the goods. But the woman was right at his side, insisting he pay particular attention to a hand carved, finely detailed 20-piece nativity set imported from Germany. Father Gilligan did have to admit that he’d been interested months earlier in acquiring just such a nativity set for his study, but pre-Christmas prices were so prohibitive that he just forgot all about it. Now, though, with the original price slashed by 50%, he made the purchase.
Returning to his parish, he opened the box containing the nativity set, each piece having been carefully wrapped in many-layered tissue by the salesperson. With Christmas already over, it made no sense to unwrap each piece for display this year, so Fr. Gilligan climbed the attic stairs to stow away his treasure until next year’s Christmas made its approach.
Eleven months later, he again climbed the attic stairs to retrieve the coveted box. Humming “O Little Town of Bethlehem” while descending to his study with what he knew was an absolute steal at 50% off, Fr. Gilligan lovingly unwrapped each of the 20 pieces, admiring each anew as tissue revealed its treasure. Carefully arranging each figurine about the straw-filled wooden manger, the volume of the hummed carols increased as a brandied eggnog lubricated his vocal cords. First came Mary, Joseph and the Infant Jesus, placed just so upon the straw. Next unwrapped were cows, sheep and goats, followed by a cadre of shepherds placed in watch over them. Lastly came the most exquisitely ornamented figures. Fr. Gilligan broke into a loud rendition of “We Three Kings” as he gently lifted a tissue shrouded lump from the box. Melchior was revealed in the unwrapping.
Next, reaching way down into the box, he brought forth another king, this one identified as Caspar. One king to go and we’re done, the priest thought. But the final attempted retrieval revealed an empty box. Where was Balthasar? There are supposed to be three kings! Where the heck is Balthasar?
In the gospel passage we hear today, the story of those three gift-bearers begins. By tradition known as Balthasar, Caspar and Melchior, they are variously referred to as kings, magi or wise men. “On entering the house, the wise men saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11) The point of today’s feast is that these men traveled a great distance, following the lead of Bethlehem’s star, in search of the newborn Jesus, he who was the savior not only of the Jewish population surrounding Bethlehem, but, indeed, of the whole world. With the arrival of the three kings to pay him homage, we find the revelation that Jesus has come for the whole world, for all men and women of every time and place.
This very Epiphany day, Fr. Gilligan is, no doubt, sitting in his study, brandied eggnog in hand as he hums “We Three Kings.” He’s long recovered from the shock of having only two kings in his nativity set. On Christmases of late, he even regales friends with a fictional version of his mistaken purchase of years earlier. “Yeah,” he laughs, “I purposely left one of the kings in the box up in the attic just to remind myself that Jesus wants a whole lot more than gold, frankincense and myrrh. He wants ME! Jesus wants the gift that only I can give. He knows it’s a long trek to Bethlehem from here, but with the passing of each day, my gift seems to get just a bit more precious.” And with that, old Fr. Gilligan tosses back the rest of the eggnog to fortify his journey to Jesus.