Solemnity of the Epiphany

07 January 2024

Appears in: Messages and Homilies

Solemnity of the Epiphany


[Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12]

Over the last few weeks, traffic in the city has been rather light. Tomorrow, I expect that will change. Our streets will become more congested and traffic will slow considerably. The reason for this is a search for wisdom. Students and teachers will return to school and university, seeking once again to grow in their knowledge of many things and how they all fit together. Their vehicles and buses will join us on the streets, and the easy flow of traffic we have enjoyed will be disrupted, causing many people to adjust travel plans and itineraries.

This image, I suggest, can help us grasp the message of Sacred Scripture on this Solemnity of the Epiphany. In its own way, it speaks of serious traffic disruptions caused by a search for wisdom.

The Gospel passage from Saint Matthew opens with the search. Travellers from the East have come on a long journey seeking knowledge, wishing to know where to find “the child who is born king of the Jews”. Now, St. Matthew tells us these men are “wise”. Wisdom goes beyond mere knowledge to penetrate to the truth of reality, to grasp how all things fit together in an ordered whole. The Gospel also tells us these wise men, in their searching, have kept their gaze fixed on the heavens, the space upon which humanity from the beginning has looked in wonder, awed by the order and harmony of the universe and pondering its source. Now the wise men sense that their life-long search for wisdom will be fulfilled when they find this mysterious child. This is confirmed by the star. Emerging from the beautifully ordered and wonderfully harmonious universe, it leads them forward in their search for its architect, and stops exactly over the place where the child is lying.

Here we arrive at the essential message of Epiphany. In Jesus, born of Mary, all human searching and desiring finds its joyful fulfilment. In him is made manifest to humanity the meaning of all reality and the divine love at its heart. What is more, in the child born in Bethlehem, God, the Maker of all that is, has come in search of us! As we hear from Saint Paul, in Jesus God has revealed His wondrous plan to reconcile all people in Christ and draw us to Himself. In other words, God, Who arranges all things without error, has come in the gift of His Son to give right order and harmonious flow to the traffic patterns of our lives, that we might travel peacefully and joyfully home to Him.

Why, then, do we experience “traffic disruptions”? Now that we have encountered the source of all wisdom, Wisdom itself, in Jesus, why still the disorder in our hearts and in our world? On our streets this week, disruptions will come as students and teachers join us on the road. In our own lives, the Gospel shows how they occur when we do not allow Jesus on ours.

Consider Herod. For him, traffic becomes very congested as he perceives a rival to his rule merging onto the road. This he cannot bear, so immediately puts plans in place to destroy this competitor, run him off the road entirely, in order to continue along the course he has set for himself, at a pace of his own choosing, toward destinations of his own making. How do we receive today the announcement that Jesus has come to reign over us? Are we prepared to allow him to set the direction, pace and destiny of our lives, or do we resist his Word and persist in following routes of our own design?

We do well, too, to ponder the example of the chief priests and scribes assembled by Herod. For them, traffic has stalled entirely. They, who know well the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, hear the news of a birth in that very place, and yet make no move to see for themselves. Unwilling to search, they get “stuck in traffic”, their lives do not move or change at all. From this a question emerges: have we given up the search? That is, have we grown complacent with where we are in the Christian life?  The journey into the mystery of Christ never ends, bringing with it unexpected and wonderful changes to our grasp of reality and to the way we live. Let’s never get “stuck in traffic” by indifference or complacency, but always be ready to set out anew to discover the endless riches of knowledge and wisdom given in Jesus Christ.

When the wise men found Jesus, they bowed down in worship, symbolized in their offering of precious gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. We need no longer search for Jesus, because he has come in search of us and remains present with us, especially here in the Eucharist. Our response to him, though, must be the same as that of the wise men, namely, worship. Here in the mass, we do so by offering the gift of ourselves, which to God is infinitely more precious than those offered at Bethlehem.

Following their worship of the Christ child, the wise men had a traffic disruption of their own. They returned home by another road. When we worship Jesus Christ, our entire lives will change direction, as by his grace we are set on the road to our heavenly home. May we be always ready to accept this traffic disruption with gratitude and joy.

Most Reverend Richard W. Smith

Saint Joseph Basilica

January 7th, 2024