Homily – Epiphany

Fr Abbot Brendan OSB

I know next to nothing about the world of social media. As far as I am concerned tiktok is what a clock does and Instagram is a new measurement of weight. However, I recently came across a new category of celebrity, which I found rather fascinating, the influencer. For those of you who are as ignorant as I am, an influencer is someone with a large number of followers on social media. Cristiano Ronaldo has 616 million followers and Selena Gomez 429 million! One post from an influencer promoting your latest brand of shampoo can be far more effective than ten highly expensive advertising campaigns. Long before the dawn of the internet, influencers were of a very different variety. The Magi were one such, and in the ancient land of Israel, their exotic and unexpected arrival was the talk of Jerusalem.

Epiphany is a Greek word and it literally means ‘to draw back the veil’. People are essentially curious and whether that curiosity is about the exotic Magi, or the twenty first century influencer, we want to know, everything!

Whenever you hear of epiphanies in the Gospel, it means that God is drawing back the veil that covers a great mystery and all of us can peer into this mystery.

This is what happened at Epiphany. What did the Magi see when the veil of God was drawn back? The child with Mary, his mother; yes, but they were also given to see beyond the obvious and into the mystery and they fell on their knees and Christian worship began. Adoration is the lesson of Epiphany; it is the most we can give, and to adore is to acknowledge. Have you ever noticed how depictions of the Magi tend to have one standing, one bowing and one kneeling? They are leading us into worship, into adoration and the gifts they presented tell us about the mystery revealed to them.

They offered him gold, a sign and symbol of kingship; and frankincense, the sign and symbol of the presence of God. The final gift was the perfumed oil, myrrh, used for his burial and this of course was the sign of his sacrifice that he would offer up his life for the redemption of the whole world. These gifts tell us about God, but they also represent those things that God wants us to give him.

Give to God your gold, that is to say, all that the world values and tells us to strive after, but let nothing and nobody take away your Christian dignity, for you are worth more than all the gold and jewels and earthly treasure in the world. In God’s eyes, everyone is an influencer.

Give to God your frankincense, that is to say, all those things that we make into gods in our life. “You shall have no gods before me”, says the Lord. So, this year, let us offer to God our idols, our mistaken priorities, our worldly but futile ambitions.

Finally, give him myrrh. The root meaning of the word myrrh is ‘bitter’, and it is a symbol of death and the grave. So give to God all that embitters you and all that leads to death, and even give to him your illnesses and sufferings. We are asked to surrender all things to God. No earthly influencer looks for these things, only Jesus said, “come to me all you who labour and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest.” How easily we can skip over those words, but imagine how they sound to people in Ukraine, or in Gaza right now. These are very serious words. This is all part of Epiphany.

When we have given all of these things to God then we too can kneel before him and truly worship, truly adore.

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