"Thine only-begotten Son, Who is co-eternal with Thee in Thy glory, showed Himself in true flesh, with a visible body like ours.... When Thine only-begotten Son showed Himself in the substance of our mortal nature, He restored us by the new light of His own immortality."1
Those words are given to us by the Church for this feast of the Epiphany and its Octave -- not only do we have a special preface for the season, but even the unusually unchanging Canon of the Mass yields just a little bit to accommodate the season. Epiphany is a Greek word that means "manifestation" -- something previously hidden and unknown becomes visible for all with eyes to see. Those of you who were here yesterday for the blessing of the Epiphany holy water recited an antiphon that explained the three-fold nature of this manifestation: Our Lord was made manifest to the Wise-men who came from the East following a star; He was also manifested in a public way at the time of His Baptism in the Jordan River; and again at the beginning of His public life when He worked His first miracle at Cana of Galilee. In the Divine Office, and to a greater extent in the Mass, these three events are celebrated over a period of about two weeks, with one being assigned to this Mass, another to the 13th of this month (His Baptism), and two Sundays from now commemorating the miracle of changing water into wine.
In all of the aspects of this Epiphany celebration, there is not only the theme of manifestation, but also of the Incarnation. "Thine only-begotten Son, Who is co-eternal with Thee in Thy glory, showed Himself ... in the substance of our mortal nature." It is not simply a man, and not even just a great man, who made His debut in the world on Epiphany, but the "co-eternal" Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He is not simply a prophet as Moses or Isaias were, or as Mohammed claimed to be; He is not just a philosopher like the Buddha or Confucius -- Instead He is God, the Son of God, by Whom all things were made. The Creator Himself has become one of us, not just to tell us what must be done to remedy the fallen condition of the human race, but to take it upon Himself as God made Man to restore human nature.
The gifts of the Wise-men symbolize this Incarnation; Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. The Gold, of course, acknowledges that He is a King. Yet the incense tells us that His kingdom is not of this world, for incense is burned so that it may drift heavenward, to God, and thus they acknowledge that He is God as well as King. The Myrrh is a sort of bitter perfume, a powder made from resin, use to anoint the bodies of the dead -- so the third gift points to the tomb from which He will rise on the third day. He is acknowledged to be the God and King that will take the sins of the world upon Himself.
Now you have heard me emphasize the Incarnation a number of times during Advent and Christmas. I've done this purposefully because it is becoming more and more painfully obvious that it is being lost sight of, not only in secular society, but among religious people as well. Not only has the Baby Jesus all but disappeared from the public acknowledgement of Christmass, but it seems that Christ the God-man is disappearing, or at least being de-emphasized among Christians. Secular as well as religious figures are falling all over themselves to tell us that our religion must be made over -- that it must become a "dialogue" between peoples with differing opinions; that it must be reduced to compromises and options, so that everyone can "get along" and learn from one another -- in other words, that it must say nothing that will displease or inconvenience anyone in modern society. Religion, we are asked to believe, is okay as long as it doesn't go much beyond song singing, hand shaking, back slapping, and making business and social connections. Above all, it must not speak to the moral problems that plague modern society -- not the murder of the unborn, not perversion nor contraception, and certainly not to the restoration of the rule of Christ the King.
But this season of Christmas and Epiphany contradicts the "wisdom" of the modern world. And it does so precisely because it celebrates the Incarnation. "The Word was God.... and the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us."2 The Word was born into this world, and told us what God expects of us, and established His Church with the tools to help us do it, and was crucified for our sins, and rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. What part of this could possibly make us think that our religion ought to be the work of a committee formulating options, or the work of a bureaucracy engaged in constant dialog with like-minded bureaucracies around the world?? What part of the Incarnation could possibly tell us that God made creation and then walked away leaving men and women to "do their own thing"?? Obviously, the Incarnation is at odds with these things -- and that is why it is under constant attack by rulers of the kingdom of the world.
"What can we do"? we might ask ourselves. Public opinion and policy is molded by those much more powerful than we are. My answer would be that our most effective tactic is to maintain and practice our Catholic Faith -- openly! In these United States we have certain constitutionally guaranteed rights. They are under constant attack, but at least to some degree we retain the freedom to practice our religion and to profess God's teaching publicly. I assure you with absolute certainty that if not exercised and protected and demanded those freedoms will diminish through lack of use. If today we fail to make our Catholic Faith visible to our fellow citizens, tomorrow it will not be possible. If today we don't speak up when God's laws are violated, tomorrow there will be nothing to protect us from the violators.
While I have been using the words "today" and "tomorrow" metaphorically, time is rather limited. Just look at how far we have fallen, and how quickly. Go back a hundred years, and you will find America that had an amazingly Christian concept of justice and morality underlying its laws -- it wasn't perfect, of course -- but a law abiding American was a fairly moral person, keeping most of the Commandments pretty well. He didn't have to go to church, but many did; his speech was innocent by modern standards; he supported and defended his family and his country and helped the less fortunate; he didn't steal or murder or commit many sins of impurity; he was generally faithful in his marriage; and many of the abominations about which we hear so much today were never even discussed in polite company.
But, little by little, Christians have let their moral values slip away. Some because they like being perceived as sophisticated, others because they were lured by personal gain or forbidden pleasure. But remember that nothing comes without a price. Christianity is not a series of options and compromises -- it is the stated will of God, the instructions of the manufacturer for His creation. The world rulers may tell us that they want to give us maximum freedom, but freedom is precisely what they intend to take away. If we don't publicly live by Christian principles and the Catholic Faith today, there will soon come a time when doing so will not be allowed.
This feast of the Epiphany is the manifestation of God's Incarnation. May it move us to manifest our Faith in God, so those around us may be led to His truth; that by restoring His order on earth, we may attain happiness with Him in heaven. "That He may restore us by the new light of His own immortality."
1. Communicantes and Preface of Epiphany and its Octave.