January 6, 2023

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend, the Church celebrates the ancient Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, commemorating and reflecting upon the visit of Magi “from the East” to the crib side of the newborn Savior (Mt 2:1).

For the first reading, the Church presents a passage from the third and last section of Isaiah. After four generations of exile in Babylon, survivors or descendants of survivors of the long past Babylonian conquest of the Holy Land finally were able to return to their homeland.

When Persia in turn overtook Babylonia, Persia’s King Cyrus allowed the exiles to leave Babylon and to return to the Holy Land. Their homecoming was bittersweet. The land to which they returned after so many years was desolate and unyielding.

The prophets insisted that, despite this desolation, times would change for the better because God would not forget the chosen people.

Thus, the prophet rejoices in God’s salvation. He will vindicate the people. God will come in justice and mercy. The prophecy predicts a great new day!

For the second reading, the Church offers us a selection from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. It is a frank and direct statement that God intends salvation also for the Gentiles, not only for the chosen people.

St. Matthew’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. Among the four Gospels, only Matthew and Luke refer to the conception, birth and early life of Jesus. Mark and John are silent on these subjects.

Only Matthew has the story of the Magi. This story is one of the most profound and expressive revelations in the New Testament. To understand it requires recognizing the symbols and images contained in the passage.

First, the Gospel speaks of visitors “from the East” (Mt 2:1). “From the East” was a phrase referring to much more than a direction of the compass. It meant a distant and unknown place. It was a term of mystery.

These visitors came from a place totally outside the Holy Land and Jewish culture and religion.

Who and what were they? Scholars cannot agree on a description for them. Some think that they were astrologers in a time when astrology fascinated everyone and was heavily associated with theology and philosophy. Others think they were nobles or kings. Another term is “magi,” but this term’s meaning is unclear.

Whatever the answer, they were gifted, learned, resourced and very sincere people from some place far away, strangers to Jews, driven by the wish to know God. Art and legend have seen them through the centuries as three in number.

Herod tried to frustrate their search, hoping to remove any threat to his corrupt control over the people, fearful that a “newborn king” might be a rival (Mt 2:2).

Looking for clues, he discovered that according to the Scriptures, the Savior would be born in Bethlehem. This discovery put in jeopardy the infant Lord and the young boys of the town, traditionally known as the Holy Innocents.

Overall, the message is powerful. The Magi, only humans, yearn for God but cannot find him on their own. God assists them with a star in the sky and even through the evil Herod.


This wondrous feast teaches us a vital lesson. The Magi were humans—lost and not knowing where to go. We are often similarly lost. Additionally, we are sinners, choosing to distance ourselves from God. We are helpless in the last analysis.

The Magi remind us to consider what is truly important in life. Too often, people allow themselves to look for rewards in earthly terms. Inevitably, they are disappointed.

The Magi knew that something wonderful, beautiful and fulfilling was in life, in their lives, if they could find it. In Jesus, an infant but also the Son of God, they found it, guided by the star and warned of danger. †

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