- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2006

The following are excerpts of a sermon delivered yesterday by the Rev. Edward C. Hathaway at St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal, Va.

Today we celebrate the great Feast of Epiphany, also known as “Little Christmas.” In many countries, it is today that gifts are exchanged and this feast celebrated with greater solemnity than Christmas itself.

The word Epiphany means “an appearance or manifestation.” Our Lord made His Epiphany to the Jewish nation, in the persons of Mary, Joseph and the shepherds who greeted Him with great joy. On the Feast of the Epiphany, we celebrate our Lord’s manifestation to the gentile world, beyond Israel, symbolized by the visit of the Magi.

The Magi come from far-off nations to pay homage to Christ the King, found with His mother, Mary. They represent the non-Jewish world and remind us that, while Christ is the long-awaited messiah of the Hebrew people, he had not come for the chosen people alone.

He is the one mediator between God and man and the one Savior of the human race come to save all people from their sins. There is no other way to the Father but through Christ and no other pathway to heaven but through the blood of Our Lord.

The Magi were also astronomers who found the star that led them to Christ through their scientific efforts. In finding Christ, they prostrated themselves and gave him homage. Here we can see science bowing to religion.

The gifts they presented to Christ reveal more to us about Christ than they do about those who offered them.

Gold identified Christ as a king, since it is both the king of metals and a gift fit for a king. But Our Lord is a king who rules His dominion through a cross, not from a comfortable throne. Our Lord teaches us that in order to reign with Him, we must die to our self will and give ourselves in generous service to those around us.

Frankincense revealed Christ is a priest. Frankincense is a type of incense used by the priest in the temple. The role of a priest in the ancient covenant was to offer sacrifice in the temple and to serve as a mediator between God and man. Christ is the perfect priest because He offered the perfect sacrifice — Himself on the altar of the cross.

Myrrh was indeed a strange gift for a newborn baby. It was a spice or perfumed ointment used to embalm the dead. The gift reminds us that this helpless baby, so sweet and tender in the manger, was born to die.

In the wood of the crib we find, with eyes of faith, the wood of the cross. He was laid in a stranger’s stable at the beginning of His life, and a stranger’s grave at the end. Wrapped in swaddling clothes in the manger, he is wrapped in the shroud in the tomb.

This gift of myrrh reveals Jesus as our Redeemer who freely gives up His life to conquer death for us and to enable us to live forever.

Like the Magi, we also want to make an offering to the Christ child on this great solemnity.

We bring the gold of charity, of our good deeds for members of our family, for the needy and less fortunate.

We bring the frankincense of our prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament. The family rosary meditating on the mysteries in the lives of Jesus and Mary will help us to imitate the lives we contemplate.

Finally, we offer the myrrh of our self-denial and mortification, to put the love we have for Christ into our flesh. Mortification allows us to avoid the indulgent culture of narcissism that surrounds us and liberates us to seek God and serve others.

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